Every summer, Bob and I volunteer to go on tour with the B-25 WWII bomber, “Maid in the Shade,” from CAF Airbase Arizona. The volunteering starts long before summer tour, requiring a time commitment, annual membership dues, and attendance at the annual ground school.
Tour is a working vacation where we keep long days to fulfill our mission to educate, honor, and inspire. Fulfilling that mission involves opening the plane for static tours on the ground. Unlike some organizations, we let people climb into and touch our warbirds.
It also involves selling Living History Flights to give people a feel for life as an Army Air Force crewman of yesteryear — minus the gunfire and bomb explosions. Passengers get to hear the engines roar to life, smell the smoke they emit on startup, and move about the cabin to different crew positions.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty cool to tour with a plane like this. Despite the busy schedule day in and day out, it offers a number of perks. Here are four of them:
We get to go to some spectacular places. The airbase covers commercial airfare to the plane’s location at the start of a member’s tour if they agree to stay on tour for a minimum of 10 days (and meet all of the other requirements). I typically go for two weeks, and Bob commits to three.
Bob’s first tour in 2016 took him to Missoula, Montana, and Everett, Washington. My first tour with Bob in 2017 took us to Penticton and Kamloops, British Columbia, and Lethbridge, Alberta. Together, we’ve visited Nashua, New Hampshire; Leesburg, Virginia; Bristol, Tennessee; Bozeman, Montana; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Springfield, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Kalispell, Montana.
Because we keep a busy schedule on tour, we don’t get to do a lot of sightseeing. While in Bozeman, Montana, for example, we didn’t get to go to Yellowstone National Park, a 1.5-hour drive away. But that’s OK.
When time allows, we do get to drive around and explore an area. We typically have Monday afternoons off after arriving at a new location for the week. That’s how we were able to check out the Bass Pro “Granddaddy of All Outdoor Stores” in 2021. A day off in Lethbridge, Alberta, enabled us to visit the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, which houses one of only 17 remaining Lancaster bombers.
We also get to enjoy a different type of sightseeing by flying over each tour stop and from location to location. The landscape varies in each area. We got to cruise over the stunning beauty that is Glacier National Park. The scenic flight from Kamloops to Penticton, British Columbia, meandered through canyons formed by a river. Flying over the Mississippi River gave us a bird’s-eye view of the towboats that push barges of heavy, bulky cargo to cities on the river’s banks.
In addition, we often get a chance to check out other airplanes. In 2022, those other airplanes included an airworthy F-86 Sabre, a fire bomber plane, and a C-45 Beechcraft on floats.
3. Amazing People
Each week we’re on tour requires a crew of eight to handle ground and flight operations for the bomber. In addition to commingling with amazing volunteers, we meet fascinating people. In 2020, for example, I met Tom Oberweiser over the phone. He requested we fly over his dad’s nursing home to honor the WWII veteran B-25 navigator on our way from Bozeman to Missoula, Montana. We gladly accepted.
Although Tom’s dad has since passed away, honoring the vet continued in 2022. Tom and his wife showed up in Bozeman, two hours from their home, eager to meet me and anyone else on the crew who had been involved in the 2020 flyover. The couple booked a flight on “Maid in the Shade” to further honor Lt. Jack Oberweiser and get a taste of what his war days might have been like.
That contact with amazing people is truly inspirational. Although part of our mission is to inspire others, we often find ourselves inspired. When Civil Air Patrol cadets come to our tour stops and pitch in to help us in any way they can, it’s inspiring.
When veterans come to see our planes, we find ourselves humbled and inspired. When sons and daughters of veterans visit us in honor of their parents, we can’t help but be encouraged. That was certainly the case when a gentleman named Bob flew into Kalispell on his Stearman biplane, unaware his family had purchased a ride for him on our B-25.
Tears blurred Bob’s eyes as he shared about his father, who had flown more than 30 missions on a B-25, and his uncle, who had flown numerous missions on a B-17. Bob regretted the way he had treated his late father but was thankful to be able to honor him by visiting and flying on the B-25.
We’re thankful to have been part of that exciting surprise. As I shared with a newspaper reporter, it’s truly an honor to be near and experience these warbirds and to do what we do.
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This is the travel blog of Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong. We live on the road full time, enjoying all the adventures that come our way.