Flying high

“REACH FOR yellow, as everything yellow is safe. Don’t touch anything red – red will get you ejected,” were the first words Loadmaster Robert Morelli said to those that were brave enough to get on the “Maid in the Shade.”

The “Maid in the Shade” is a B-25 that has been fully restored by the non-profit volunteer group Commemorative Air Force (CAF). This B-25 bomber actually received its name after she sat in the back of a hanger for 28 years while CAF volunteers restored the B-25 to its former glory. It fought in Corsica and is a veteran combat air craft. “Maid in the Shade,” flew 15 missions during WWII. After the war, the bomber took on a session of other jobs until it went to CAF in 1981 where bullet holes were patched and the plane was fully restored. Now, the B-25 is referred to as a flying museum.

I, along with five other people, was lucky enough to get to soar over the Ohio Valley on the “Maid in the Shade.” Our pilot for the day was Pete Scholl, who not only serves as a volunteer pilot but also is still a pilot with Southwest airlines.

“The Commemorative Air Force is a national organization that is dedicated to keeping war birds of World War II, Korea and Vietnam flying as a memorial to the air men and other service men that fought during those wars,” said Scholl. “We are concentrating a little more on World War II since the aircrafts are a little more available.”

Scholl has been with CAF for 12 years, serving as a volunteer and has been a pilot for nearly 20 years. Scholl also served in the Air Force as a pilot.

“Especially with WWII veterans, a lot of the people that have been part of the community are passing away as they get into their 80s and 90s, so we are kind of losing that generation of people. This is a way to perpetuate their memory and to keep the memory alive and the sacrifices they made,” said Scholl.

The group of six was split up into threes; one group was in the cockpit with one lucky person riding in the nose, and the other three were in the back with Loadmaster Morelli. As we sat signing waivers in the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, which was hosting the flying museum for the week, Morelli explained the difference between sitting in the front and the back.

While both have great views, the front has smaller windows and you really can’t move around as much. In the back, there are bigger windows and more room to move. In the back, you can go to the tail, said Morelli. I opted for the back.

“Maid in the Shade” sat on black asphalt as the crew finished the last few preparations for the afternoon flight. I could feel the heat coming through my shoes as we made our way to the plane. The heat inside the plane was worse. Morelli opened several windows to try and get the air circulated.

To get into the plane, we had to get climb up ladders and try not to hit our heads. Once inside, Loadmaster Morelli began to instruct us on the hand signals he would use once we were in the air. Machine gun rounds hung above our heads and machine guns were still positioned in the windows with the barrels on the outside. In the tail of the plane was a small stool and two more machine guns.

Morelli has been with the CAF for about 10 years.

“I am a Loadmaster and my job back here with the public is to keep them safe,” said Morelli, whose interest in planes came from his father.

“My father was actually in World War II. He was in the 8th Air Force over in Europe,” said Morelli. “He worked on the P-17s, so my interest sparked from when I was a child.”

While most of those who volunteer are retired air force or airline captains, Morelli works as an educator in California. Morelli explained this is what he does with his summers off; he will be out with the planes for two or three weeks and then will go home for two or three weeks.

“It’s such a joy being out here and being a part of history,” said Morelli.

As the engines roared to life, shaking the entire plane, that was our signal to put on our seat belts and headphones. The engine made it impossible to hear each other. After several minutes, the plane was slowly moving across the asphalt and turning onto the runway. The plane gathered speed down the runway and began to take off.

One of the best parts about being in the air was the view of the valley below, especially from the tail. In order to get to the tail, we had to one at a time get on all fours and crawl back. Moving in the plane was actually easier then expected.

Overall, we were in the air for about 30 minutes before we started our decent to the runway, where we were met by many onlookers and the crew. Once safely back in its spot, the crew began cleaning the “Maid in the Shade” up and prepared her for that day’s tours.