From left in front of the Champaign Gal are Will Channell, of Maple Dell Road, Teresa Smith, of Zanesfield, Mike Mikols and Terry Nawman, of Marysville, Gary Hillyer, of Plain City and Joe Kokoruda, of Marysville. They rode on the plane Friday afternoon at the All Ohio Balloon Fest. They are all Journal-Tribune subscribers. The plane came courtesy of the Marysville Journal-Tribune’s sponsorship of the Urbana Aviation Museum.
When I was a kid, I was really into airplanes.
I remember owning a book where each page was devoted to a plane. It contained its history, its role and various stats that made my head spin. Well, 7-year-old me would probably think 25-year-old me is pretty cool, because I got to fly in a B-25 bomber Friday afternoon.
My flight came during the All Ohio Balloon Fest.
Every year, the Journal-Tribune gives a group of people the chance to go up in the plane. This year, I was flying alongside Mike Mikols, Terry Nawman and Joe Kokoruda, all of Marysville, Gary Hillyer, of Plain City and Teresa Smith, of Zanesfield.
All of them are subscribers to the Journal-Tribune.
I introduced myself and sat down. Then we heard the plane.
It sounded like a low-pitched scream coming from somewhere in the sky. I caught a glimpse of the plane’s shadow and soon saw it rolling down the runway.
For those uninitiated, the B-25 Mitchell was an instrumental aircraft in World War II. About 10,000 were produced and the plane was in service in one role or another for about four decades in total.
The particular aircraft at the Balloon Fest, the “Champaign Gal,” came courtesy of the Urbana Aviation Museum.
Now, I’d done similar stories twice before at past Balloon Fests, but this was the first time I’d actually gotten to go up in the plane. When you’re about to go up in a plane, you look at it in a different light. I don’t know how something can look both solid and flimsy at the same time, but this aircraft pulled it off.
After a short briefing, we all ambled in the aircraft and took our seats. I looked around and saw the excitement on everyone’s face. Kokoruda, who was sitting across from me, had been in the Air Force from 1959 to 1963. He later told me with a smile on his face that he seldom got to go up in the air during his time of service.
We took our seats in the sweltering cabin. I fumbled with my headset and, again, waited as we taxied onto the runway. All of a sudden, a merciful gust of air came and we were off.
Once we were allowed to move about the plane, it struck me how spacious it was. My fellow passengers and I got up and navigated the interior’s jagged corners to the back of the craft. It proved to be a highlight of the flight. The tail of the plane houses a sort of glass canopy. I poked my head up and saw what I can only assume was the entirety of Union County around and beneath me.
For my fellow passengers, the experience was likely more personal. Kokoruda had his military service, Smith’s daughter is a pilot herself and Hillyer was coming off celebrating his birthday the day before.
We touched down just before it started raining. The reaction to the flight was uniformly positive. Smith, who said she already loved to fly, was surprised at the smoothness of the flight. Hillyer said he was “tickled,” and expressed appreciation at his unique birthday present.
On the drive back from the ride, I realized the flight had given me a new perspective. These rides aren’t meant only as fun little curiosities. They allow us to walk a mile in the shoes of the crews that operated these beasts against the Germans and Japanese. Spending 15 minutes in that hot, cramped aircraft was uncomfortable. Spending hours in one must have been grueling.
So I had a lot of fun, but I also got to experience a part of the past, which is an opportunity you can’t get often anymore.
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