On May 11, 2001 a group of 12 restored Mitchell B-25’s took off from Fresno airport on a circuitous route to commemorate Doolittle’s raid on Japan of April 18, 1942. Among the planes was Lyon Air Museum’s Guardian of Freedom. Complete with fighter escort the group flew over Central Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and over a replica of the USS Hornet anchored at Alameda in San Francisco Bay. [The original aircraft carrier Hornet was sunk in The Battle of Santa Cruz in the Solomon Islands October 26, 1942]. Then the formation continued its flight with low passes over Angel Island and down the coast of California to Monterey and back to the Fresno Air show with 20,000 people cheering them on. What a sight to behold.
Martin Aviation’s Chief Inspector of Maintenance, Steve Hickey was on board Guardian of Freedom and recalls the weekend event. “The actual air show started and ended at Fresno Airport, but the Guardian of Freedom had a little longer flight, taking off from John Wayne Airport and stopping in Visalia for maintenance. There were 12 planes in groups of 4 flying in formation,” he recalls. “Spacing was challenging for the pilots, since many years had passed since anyone of them had flown in formation.” A C-46 carrying magazine photographers followed them on their demonstration flight, as well as a Lear Jet piloted by Clay Lacey.
Over the years the Doolittle Raiders became Air Force legends for their nearly impossible task. Four months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Col. James H. Doolittle gathered 16 B-25’s and trained the crew to take off the aircraft carrier, Hornet – a not so easy task as they had only 467 feet of runway and rough seas to contend with – and no one had ever flown a bomber off an aircraft carrier before. They were to bomb Japan and land in China. However instead of going a distance of 400 miles, the Hornet was spotted by a Japanese vessel at over 600 miles out, so in order to keep the attack a surprise, the planes had to leave a day early. Knowing there was a possibility of running out of fuel before reaching a safe landing in China, the 80 crewmembers decided they would go anyway. Targets were hit but all the planes crashed except one that landed in Russia. Out of the 80 crew members 69 survived.
Richard Cole, who turned 100 in June 2016, is the only Raider survivor.
Article Written by Lyon Air Museum Docent and author, Nancy Robison