On 18 April 1942, sixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers were launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet 600 miles off the coast of Japan. Just four months after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, their mission was to attack the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Nagoya in a daring raid intended to act as a diversion and to boost American and Allied morale. The plan was to launch the bombers 400 miles off the coast of Japan, attack the cities and continue on to friendly airfields in China. The mission was manned by volunteer air crews and lead by Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle. The bombers had to launch 200 miles farther from Japan than intended after coming across Japanese picket ships further out than expected, making it unlikely that they would be able to reach the safety of the Chinese airfields. As a result of the attack Japanese High Command, embarrassed by the attack on Tokyo, resolved to eliminate American aircraft carriers to avoid another such raid, a decision that ultimately lead to the Japanese loss at the battle of Midway six weeks later. Though only mildly successful militarily, the Doolittle raid was a tremendous morale boost and forever emblazoned the B-25 in American history. It was just one example of the heroic actions taken by the brave young men during World War II.

Bringing together the legacy of those brave veterans and the B-25, the Disabled American Veterans has teamed up with Larry Kelley, owner of the B-25 “Panchito”, to promote their services at air shows across the country. Through their Airshow Outreach Program, the Disabled American Veterans honors the men and women who have served our country in all wars and raises public awareness of the sacrifices of our armed forces. By joining up with Larry Kelley and Panchito, the Disabled American Veterans is spreading their message of the services available to all disabled veterans and their families. Panchito has proven to be a strong draw to young and old alike at airshows, helping to spread the Disabled American Veterans message across the generations.

Only about two dozen airworthy B-25’s exist today. Restored in 1986 by Tom Reilly, Panchito is a beautiful example of the type. Kelley bought Panchito in 1997 and bases the aircraft at Georgetown, DE (GED).

The present day Panchito is restored to the wartime markings of pilot Don Seiler’s B-25J from the 396th Bomb Squadron, 41st Bombardment Group, 7th Air Force. The original Panchito flew 19 missions over Japan from December 1943 to October 1944. Seiler named his B-25 Panchito after the feisty rooster in the 1943 Disney film “the Three Cabarellos”. Over the years, Kelley has gathered hundreds of signatures from B-25 veterans on the replica 500 pound bombs hanging in the bomb bay.

When asked what it’s like to fly the B-25, Kelley explains that flying the plane is straightforward, but taxiing can be a challenge with the free castering nose wheel. Kelley describes the sound level on the flight deck as: “Imagine you have a metal bucket over your head with two jackhammers attacking each side of that bucket, and you know how it sounds in a B-25! Now I know why most of the men who flew these airplanes now wear hearing aids”.

The Disabled American Veterans has an extensive airshow schedule with Panchito for the 2008 season. Starting in August, you can see Panchito and visit the Disabled American Veterans mobile interactive display at the following airshows: Great State of Maine Air Show, Brunswick, ME. Sept 6 – 7. VFW Veterans Salute, Hartford, CT Sept 27–28. Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL Nov 8 – 9. NAS Pensacola Homecoming, Pensacola, FL Nov 15 - 16. If you are planning to attend any of the shows above, make some time to stop by and see Panchito up close and check out the Disabled American Veterans display. You can learn more about the Disabled American Veterans at dav.org. Find out more about the history of the present day Panchito at ragwingsandradials.com.

To see more in flight images of Panchito, visit www.robertcherryphotography.com/panchito.
Article and Images by Robert S. Cherry.

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