PASO ROBLES — Like clockwork, every single year, these nostalgic birds have performed the “missing man formation” flyover during Memorial Day services all over the Central Coast. Flying at 1,000 feet, the sight and sound of these rumbling, valiant vessels is both visually and physically impressive and emotional.
“We fly low enough to where is looks like a lot of airplane, but not too low where it’s not safe,” said John Garlinger, one of the pilots of the B-25 Mitchell bomber.
It’s one thing to look up and admire the longstanding tradition of the ceremonial flyover at a Memorial Day service or parade, it’s quite another to catch these birds getting fueled up on the tarmac in front of the Estrella Warbird Museum, to find out who these guys are and how they pull this feat off so successfully each year.
“We flew over seven ceremonies,” said Robin Greg, one of the loadmasters, while waiting for the B-25 Mitchell bomber to be refueled. “Some cemeteries, some parks, some parades. One of the local guys here knows all the events going on and directs us, we put him in the nose of the plane and he tell us where to go. ‘Four miles this way, turn left,’ and so on, then we pass over each service. Took us about an hour.”
The B-25, fondly named Executive Sweet, with a Trojan T-28 on the wing, flew over events in San Luis Obispo, Santa Margarita, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Santa Margarita, Los Osos to name a few.
The pilots of the B-25 were John Garlinger and Brian Keely, of the American Aeronautical Foundation, which was founded to help preserve the aviation legacy of World War II veterans and the aircraft they flew. Garlinger and Keely flew C-130s in the military together, in the same unit, and now fly for Fedex. The T-28 was flown by Estrella Warbird Museum Board President Sherm Smoot. Smoot entered Navy flight school in Pensacola, Fla. in January of 1971 and received his wings in April of 1972. After completing the F-4 Phantom RAG in San Diego, he joined VF-21 mid-cruise for the end of “Linebacker Two” ops and was there when the Vietnam War ended, flying off of the USS Ranger in the Gulf of Tonkin. Completing two cruises with VF-21 as their LSO (landing signal officer), he was then assigned to the “Indoctrination” team of the Navy’s new Lockheed S-3 Viking. Smoot left active duty in 1977 to pursue an airline career with Continental Airlines and remained in the Naval Reserves, flying F-4’s for another four years.
While the B-25 has been seen by millions of aviation fans at air shows, fly-ins and private aviation events for more than four decades, it “never actually saw combat because it was built so close to the end of the war,” Greg said. “So it was used here in the states as a trainer, then it made its way into the movie business for a while.”
Indeed, the B-25 was acquired by Hollywood’s Filmways Studios in 1968 where she became the lead “on camera” aircraft named “Vestal Virgin” in the film “Catch-22” starring Alan Arkin. She now lives at the Camarillo Airport in Southern California.
The North American T-28B Trojan was first flown in 1949, the Trojan entered production in 1950. Designed to replace the AT-6 Texan for all branches of the military, the Trojan was the heaviest and most powerful piston-engine trainer ever projected for primary training and it was also the first U.S. military trainer to have a tricycle gear.
When asked what the best part of doing this every year was, Garlinger replied, “The missing man maneuver, it’s really dramatic. When the T-28 drops off, symbolizing that someone has passed away, it’s a great thing. Gives you the chills doing it every time.”
Minutes later, the entire crew jumped in, closed the hatch, and after a few anticipatory minutes to start up the engines — which included all the drama of smoke, blasts of fire and sputtering propellers — the Executive Sweet taxied out for another journey.
To experience flying in the B-25 “Executive Sweet” yourself, you can call the RIDE HOTLINE at 805-377-2106.
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]