And in My Spare Time

When you get the chance to be a ten year old and get paid for it …

Building a Doolittle Raider

The North American B-25 Mitchell served in nearly every theater of operations during World War II. While the ionic medium bomber was continuously modified and redesigned for a wide variety of roles, some of the most famous B-25s were among the earliest produced. The 16 B-25Bs that launched from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet for their “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” were fresh off the assembly line in 1940.

Airfix totally retooled their 1/72nd-scale B-25 in 2018. The kit that emerged was designed from the outset to be built in a number of versions. In 2019 the company released their newest kit, which could be built as one of those 16 famous “Doolittle Raiders.”

The kit has nice detail and is well engineered. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. An extra parts tree is included with pieces particular to the Raiders: an M7 cluster incendiary bomb, the clear tail cone with holes for two dummy machine guns and the substitute “Mark Twain” bombsight.

An alternative cowling with its series of individual exhaust vents, hints at other versions of the Mitchell are coming.

Begin with the cockpit. A decal is provided to represent the instrument panel, but metal-etched detail sets are available to give the cockpit that extra boost. The cockpit assembly includes the bombardier’s position. Once it’s complete, install the assembled flight deck to the left half of the fuselage. Following the instructions, add the bulkheads that also make up the bomb bay. The bomb bay section of early Mitchells was sometimes left natural metal rather than the standard interior green (FS34151) found in the rest of the airplane. A natural aluminum color will help set off the B-25’s ordnance. For the Doolittle Raid, most of the Mitchells carried three 500-pound bombs and one M7 incendiary. Paint the bombs a yellowish chromate green. Early in the war most of the available bombs were painted this color as opposed to the more familiar olive drab.

The B-25 wants to be a “tail sitter,” so added weight in the nose is a must. Small lead fishing sinkers work well tucked into the spaces around the cockpit, though the glass nose does limit the available space. If you find you can’t add enough weight to keep the bomber on its tricycle landing gear, there is a solution (see below) during the final stages of assembly. Now bring the fuselage halves together. Putty as necessary—the overall fit is very good—and set the assembly aside.

With the fuselage complete, it’s time to paint and assemble the two Wright R-2600 Double Cyclone radial engines. There are two sets of engine cowlings—choose the smooth version and check the instructions. The second set has a series of small cooling intakes around the back half of the cowling, a modification in later aircraft.

Put together the horizontal and vertical stabilizers and attach the assembly to the fuselage. Use the piece provided to cover the ventral machine gun turret position. The remotely powered machine gun turret was one of the first things removed as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle looked to save weight and increase the bomber’s range. Attach the wings and the aircraft begins to take on its classic shape.

A pre-cut set of masks for the canopy and cockpit glass is well worth the expense.

Invest in a set of precut adhesive masks. The “greenhouse” Plexiglas panes that make up the cockpit and nose section are difficult to cut by hand. Attach those sections to the fuselage, wrap the landing gear, fill the top turret position with tissue and the airplane is ready for a coat of paint.

The bomber was painted olive drab (FS34087) over neutral gray (FS36270) undersurfaces. Don’t forget the black deicer boots along the leading edges of the wings and tail. Once the masking and painting is complete, a coat of clear gloss gets the model ready for a set of decals.

The kit comes with two choices of markings, but the obvious one for most modelers is sure to be Hari Kari-er, the 11th Doolittle Raider to launch. This bomber is one of the few for which photographic evidence exists of its nose art while on Hornet’s deck. The kit decals are very nice and settle comfortably into panel lines with the help of a setting solution.

Apply a flat clear coat and Hari Kari-er is almost complete. It’s time to attach the smaller detail parts, the tail skid, main gear tires and antennas. The model was designed so that a number of fuselage windows can be added from the outside, after painting. Most kits require these clear parts to be glued in place from the inside, requiring additional masking.

The crew hatches can be displayed opened or closed, but an open rear hatch will help the bomber sit correctly on its landing gear. If you attach a small piece of clear sheet plastic to that crew door it will aid in supporting the aft section of the airplane.

Attach the propellers and the clear tail cone, complete with two fake machine guns meant to deter enemy fighters. Finally, slide the completed dorsal machine gun turret into place and your Doolittle Raider is ready for its famous mission.

Watching that Step

I didn’t know what Bob Gibson’s ERA was (it was 2.18, I had to look it up) but I sure knew that Neil Armstrong was from someplace called Wapakoneta, Ohio and that he had flown the X-15. I knew that Buzz Aldrin had shot down two MiGs in Korea. They were my heros (are, actually). I had a favorite Mercury astronaut and I cried as if my dog had died when I found out Gus Grissom had been killed in the Apollo 1 fire along with Roger Chaffee and Ed White (he had walked in space on Gemini 4, take that Bob Gibson.)

So it’s no surprise that I got to stay up late along with the rest of the world that night, trying to figure out how to take a photo off the TV screen with my dad in the middle of the living room floor. Then, keeping our fingers crossed for a few days, hoping that the photo would even come out, after taking the roll of film to the Fotomat. That’s how I remember that night, the whole mission in fact, each and every one, right up until December 19, 1972 when Apollo 17 splashed into the Pacific, the last of the Apollo missions.


Belleau Wood, Antietam, Okinawa, they’re all real, physical places, you can stand there, “on this spot,” the battle was won or lost, history changed. It’s a tangible thing that, for some, puts the moment in perspective.

For others, there are no broad sunlit fields with the occasional statue or memorial. For the flier, it’s a battlefield that exists in the rarified air at 30,000 feet. It’s for the pilot, the aircrew, to invite you to their battlefield through their stories. There are no tours through their ethereal combat zone, the cockpit is much too small.

For the ten-man crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress, the “battlefield” is the limited space inside an airplane only a little over 74 feet long and clearly designed around the measurements of a skinny 19 year old kid from the Midwest, or Alabama, or Brooklyn.

Over 12,000 of these aircraft were built in the few short years between 1936 and 1945. Today, most of them are gone, shot down over Germany, lost over New Guinea, scrapped in desert boneyards. A few are in museums, a very few, have been restored and still fly today.

A gleaming silver B-17G dubbed Aluminum Overcast is one of the last of its kind, meticulously maintained both inside and out. It’s quiet and empty now, but in a few short hours she’ll come alive. Four huge throbbing engines, ready to take this icon of another time for one more sortie, one more “mission.”

This was the stage where an extremely violent death or a leisurely flight on a sunlit afternoon, played out some 75 years ago. A cramped, cold little battlefield, one of hundreds, spread out in carefully choreographed formations. Faded black and white photos only hint at what this scene must have looked like five miles above an angry countryside.

The airplane bounces in rough air, metal and wood clanking, groaning as if it was alive. The smell of oil, rubber and sweat make it easy to imagine the floor ankle deep in spent .50 caliber brass, the cordite smoke that stings your eyes.

Today, sunlight pours in through windows instead of holes left by jagged pieces of flak. Your flight is an all too brief fifteen minutes or so, nowhere near the eight hours or more you might have spent on a trip in 1944.

After a moment at the waist gunner’s position, you make your way the length of the airplane, through the bomb bay, crawling into the nose of the big bomber. The bombardier sat right there, exposed. It’s like looking out of a fishbowl, the whole world around you and a Norden bombsight in front of you, a reminder of what this airplane was designed to do.

It does make you think.