Grumpy The Backstory


The United States was reeling from Pearl Harbor, and we weren’t ready to enter World War. Fast planning, ingenuity, and sheer willpower set us on track. The B-25 was pivotal—early versions such as the NC-40 had been flying since 1938, so the Air Force took a calculated risk, offering North American Aviation a “paper contract” that meant the government would accept the plane without rigorous prototype testing. Time was pressing. Working on the fly, a handful of brilliant designers and engineers gave us World War II’s most widely used mid-range bomber, as well as a low flying “strafer” and a superb trainer. Close to 10,000 B-25s were produced, among them more than 2,000 model Ds. The plane is also the only aircraft named after another visionary, William Mitchell, who got into considerable trouble for telling the truth too loudly and too soon– that victory depended on aircraft power.

With a wing-span of 67 feet and a loaded weight of 35,000 lbs, the B-25 was not designed for carrier duty. But it could take off from short distances at slow speeds, so on April 18, 1942, Jimmy Doolittle and his band of brothers launched 16 B-25Bs from the US Hornet, aiming to give Japan a serious scare. The Hornet was spotted too soon for safe launch, but the carrier was too valuable to lose. The pilots took off knowing they likely wouldn’t make it to protected territory. They bailed after bombing; most crew did survive. The raid jump-started US morale and shocked Japan—the bombers seemed to appear out of nowhere. Japan now knew it wasn’t impenetrable, withdrew a carrier front to defend the homeland, and may have begun planning the disastrous Battle of Midway as a result. Our B-25D is almost identical to the Model B, so when you see it, salute the Doolittle squad.