By Di Freeze
Although normally based at Falcon Field Airport (FFZ) in Mesa, Ariz., Barbie III, the only North American B-25H Mitchell bomber flying in the world, is based at Centennial Airport (APA) through Sept. 15. The B-25, which can accommodate six passengers plus the flight crew, is taking to the skies regularly, giving passengers 30-minute flights.
The number two prototype of the B-25H model, Barbie III served stateside until 1947, when the government sold it to the Bendix Corporation. Bendix operated the aircraft for a decade, using it as a test aircraft in the development of jet fighter landing gear systems. It had various owners before the Weary Warrior Squadron purchased the aircraft from a farmer. The full restoration back to its wartime configuration began in 1981.
Since 1991, the Weary Warriors, and now the Warbirds Unlimited Foundation Inc., a nonprofit educational group, have been providing the public with the opportunity to experience what it was like to fly in a rare WWII bomber. In 2005, the bomber found its way to Arizona, after Jack Fedor, a member of the Weary Warrior Squadron and part owner of the medium bomber, moved to Fountain Hills. More than 1,500 people have flown on Barbie III, named after a cannon-nosed H model that had been assigned to the 1st Air Commando Group.
On July 25, pilot Dick Jones and copilot Ray Hillson took Barbie III up for a flight carrying special guests Rick Crandall and Warren Byrne. Byrne has hosted KEZW Studio 1430’s Restaurant Show for 30 years, offering his opinion on local restaurants and giving listeners the chance to chime in as well. Crandall has hosted KEZW’s Breakfast Club for 15 years and is the president of the Colorado Freedom Memorial Foundation, a monument dedicated to all Coloradoans killed or missing in military action.
Crandall has raised more than $1 million in cash and in-kind donations for the Colorado Freedom Memorial Foundation, Volunteers of America’s Meals On Wheel program, the American Red Cross and many other Denver area charities. The MC for Denver’s annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades, Crandall has sponsored Valentines For Veterans drives for the Denver VA Hospital and makes regular visits to the patients there. He made live broadcasts from the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and from the surrender deck aboard the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor to mark the 60th anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor. For his efforts, he’s received the American Legion media award five consecutive years, the Veterans Of Foreign Wars Citizen of the year award and has been given honorary membership in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, 1st Marine Division Association and the Military Officers of America Association.
To schedule a flight on Barbie III, call 800-357-6561. For more information regarding B-25 rides, making donations or the volunteer program, visit [http://www.warbirdsunlimited.org].