PIERRE, S.D. - The terminal at Pierre Regional Airport was packed Wednesday morning as a piece of living history touched down on the runway with a roar.
A B-25 Mitchell medium bomber was an impressive sight even 77 years after flying its first combat missions. The bomber was making it third stop on a tour of South Dakota to commemorate one of the B-25’s first-ever combat missions — the Doolittle Raid.
Almost 77 years ago to the day, on April 18, 1942, 16 U.S. Army B-25s under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle launched from the deck of American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet on the country’s first attack against Japan of World War II. The Doolittle Raid featured two South Dakotans. One, Lt. Henry Potter of Pierre, served as the navigator for Doolittle himself. The other South Dakotan, Don Smith of Oldham, piloted Raider 15.
It was because South Dakotans played such important roles in the Doolittle Raid that the South Dakota Air and Space Museum organized the Raid Across South Dakota — the tour that brought the B-25 to Pierre on April 17.
The bomber, which is flown by the non-profit Commemorative Air Force out of Minnesota, made stops in Sioux Falls and Mitchell before landing in Pierre a little before 10:30 a.m., said John Mollison, the Museum’s communications director.
There were two more stops planned on the tour, one in Rapid City and at Ellsworth Air Force Base, where the plane will be featured during a ceremony commemorating the Doolittle Raid on Thursday.
In Pierre, Ethan Malavolti, the CAF pilot who guided the B-25, nicknamed Miss Mitchell, to the tarmac, said the Raid Across South Dakota had been a great success.
The CAF’s B-25 has been restored to resemble the original Miss Mitchell, which flew more than 130 combat missions in Europe and North Africa during WWII without losing a single crew member. The original Miss Mitchell was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
“What I love most is the sound,” Malavolti said of flying the B-25, which was widely regarded as one of the loudest WWII aircraft. “It’s the sound of freedom.”
Back in 1942 on the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet, the B-25 would need every ounce of thrust from the B-25’s two 1,700 horsepower engines to launch from the roughly 800-foot runway. They were aided into the air by a 20-knot (23 mph) headwind and the fact that the Hornet was sailing into the wind at the best speed it could.
Matt Quy, another CAF pilot said the Doolittle Raiders, for the most part, were able to get airborne before they ran out of runway.
“I’d jump at the chance,” he said of trying to launch a B-25 from an aircraft carrier.