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Flying through memories

Staring at the gleaming, silver B-25 Mitchell bomber on the tarmac at Penticton Regional Airport Monday, tears welled up in Hank Siemen’s eyes as memories came flooding back.

For the 85-year-old Okanagan Falls resident it was like seeing an old friend for the first time in more than 50 years.

“My God, you look so good,” whispered Siemens who flew and survived many military missions aboard a B-25 as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Going closer to the aircraft, he reached up and touched the large propeller blade and gently leaned over and kissed it.

“You look so good,” he repeated to himself.

When asked what went through his mind after seeing the plane for the first time in so many years, Siemens replied: “I had to swallow hard. I would be the biggest liar in the world if I said I didn’t miss it, I really do.”

He still vividly recalls his first flight, hitching a ride from Saskatoon to Edmonton.

“I got to ride in the greenhouse (glassed-in nose turret) and it was  really cold, especially in winter,” he said.

Nicknamed the Maid in the Shade, this particular aircraft had her bullet wounds healed and was lovingly restored over a 28-year period by the Arizona-based Commemorative Air Force (CAF).

The B-25 is currently on a swing through Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest and another CAF aircraft, a B-17 bomber is on an eastern tour.

The visit is a co-operative effort on the part of the CAF and the Penticton Flying Club, which offers a variety of programs to encourage flight as a recreational past time.

Or in the words of club president Larry Taylor, “flying is not just for rich people.”

The Maid is in Penticton until Sunday after arriving Monday from Cranbrook as part of the CAF’s tribute to veterans, and to educate young people about war.

Parked in the Demel Aircraft lot, the general public can (for a fee) tour the plane and even go for a (very) exhilarating flight in the aft section or up front and personal with pilots Jerry Briggs and Spike McLane.

Following her arrival in Penticton, the first order of business was a media and VIP flight over the city, north over Okanagan Lake to Summerland with a slight deviation through the east side hills on the return trip to the airport.

Apart from the thrill of being able to look over the shoulders of the pilots as they fly the plane, those riding in the front section have the opportunity to negotiate a three-metre, narrow metal tube to the warbird’s nose turret.

Complete with cannon and ammunition (not live), experiencing the 50-degree turns from the glass-enclosed aerial venue is like nothing else. Like most military aircraft, passenger comfort is quite a ways down the priority list which includes climbing a ladder to get inside.

Noise and smoke comes from each of the two large engines as the large propellers begin to turn individually and the various unusual noises during flight eventually fade into the background as the thrill of the ride takes over.

All too soon it  is over and the Maid glides to a picture perfect landing on the runway.

“It was really an eye opener,” said Taylor who had an upfront seat for the flight.

“It’s a window into what the fellows who flew these experienced and lived with when they were in active service and not just for 20 minutes at a time.”

Those wishing to cross this one off the bucket list have until Sunday.

For reservations call 780-263-1425 or e-mail b25rc@azcaf.org.

Rides can also be purchased on site along with souvenirs of the visit.

The cost is $395 US for waist gunner and $650 US for flight deck.

 

 

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