Let the Loading Begin

Sunday, August 2, continued

There was much to do and a great deal of uncertainty. The runway was a significant distance from the ship so the plane would be towed from the base to the pier. It also wasn’t evident whether or not Old Glory’s massive wingspan would clear the gate and guard shack at the pier’s entrance, or if she could navigate the sharp 90 degree turn towards the aft end of the ship where the great crane awaited her arrival. As if all of that wasn’t enough, additional concerns of the work-around devised for the “lift fittings” that never made it loomed in the back of my brain. Think positive thoughts, think positive thoughts – the fingers-crossed emoji may have been overused in my correspondence that day!

Other than the brief glimmer in the sky, I hadn’t laid eyes on Old Glory since I left her in Florida in February. And suddenly, I saw her peek out from behind a building in the distance. I began snapping photos and video clips to send to the The Hangar crew back home, I knew they were anxious for updates.

She made a left turn rounding the first corner, her nose pointing straight towards the ship, her wingspan taking up the entire multi-lane road. It was as if she was the featured float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I chuckled to myself thinking of Old Glory substituting for Santa’s Sleigh, her dedicated flight crew waving from the windows like Santa and his elves to onlookers. After all, her bomb bay was full of toys donated for the Toys for Tots Campaign.

Old Glory was the very last plane to arrive and had only hours left until the deadline I was given by the Essex’s very patient Air Boss to get the plane to the pier. As her procession made its way closer, the ship and pier were lined with spectators – this shiny silver warbird clearly held the spotlight.

Nearing the gate to the pier, the last stretch of road had lanes with clearly marked indicators. Ironically, gigantic arrows along with the number 25 were aimed at the B-25 as if the pavement felt compelled to mark her approach.

She breezed through the gate, her wings spread proudly, and even made the sharp 90 degree turn with grace. She came to a halt in front of the great crane, pausing to prepare to be lifted onto the flight deck where I was waiting for her to join me and the other warbirds already on board the USS Essex.

A great deal of care was taken to ensure Old Glory would be safely hoisted four stories up, swaying from the forceful and uncontrollable breeze. Nearly two hours after she landed, her wheels had once again begun to lift off the ground – this time not under her own power. Slowly and controlled, unscathed by numerous obstacles illustrating the skill of the technicians choreographing the maneuvers, the ground crew hoisted her massive silver widely stretched wingspan. Guidelines trailed to handlers on the ground, again reminding me of the massive floats seen in the Macy’s Parade

In about the same amount of time it took to fly her from Brown to the Navy base, Old Glory is high enough to clear safe passage onto the flight deck. The giant arm of the crane pivots, setting her on the stern of the ship. Behind her the American flag flutters excitedly in the breeze, acknowledging this great warbird whose name and artwork bears its own likeness.

The entire staff at The Prescott Foundation is grateful to the crew that made Old Glory’s travel from New Smyrna Beach, Florida to San Diego a reality – left to right: our Mechanic Andres Morales, Pilot Syd Jones and his wife KT Budde-Jones, Copilot Paul Reidy, as well as Gary Norville (not pictured) from American Aero.

Additionally, we are grateful for the support from our sponsors whose generosity helped ease the financial burden of flying a B-25 Mitchell across the country: Albany Wealth Group of Steward Partners, Infinite Electronics, Inc., Keybank, Polsinello Fuels, and Wilmington Trust, as well as the many good-hearted folks encountered along the way – Kevin Thompson from Atlantic Aviation, James Combs at Million Air Yuma – we thank you!

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