A Return to Glory : The Story of the Recovery & Restoration of the Sandbar Mitchell

History
Aircraft

Tucked away in the east end of Hangar A is our B-25N “Mitchell.” Manufactured by North American Aviation in Kansas City, KS and delivered to the USAAF on January 17, 1945, the Museum’s “Mitchell” was dropped from inventory and delivered to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum on November 9, 1959. Never to fly again.

But, what if? What if we could fire up both Wright engines and take it up? Turns out, we will do just that…sort of.

It’s the lifelong dream of Warbirds of Glory Museum Director, Patrick Mihalek. To restore and fly a B-25. For Mihalek, the love for the B-25 Mitchell all started when he was 9 years old drawing pictures of them for his grandfather. 

And as he drew those pictures, a dream was born to start an aviation museum and restore a B-25.

“While attending college for my degree in aviation maintenance technology, I spent many evenings researching B-25 wrecks that were here in North America,” explains Mihalek. “This is how I learned about the ‘Sandbar Mitchell.’” 

As one stroke of luck after another fell into place, Mihalek was able to acquire a partial airframe from a B-25 that was once on display in Florida.  With the acquisition of this airframe, the recovery of Sandbar Mitchell had legs.

For just $1, Mihalek and his team were able to secure ownership from the original family who owned the aircraft. Sending them on a recovery mission in Fairbanks, AK, where the Sandbar Mitchell crashed in 1969, while fighting the Manley Hot Springs fire.  

With the completion of the recovery, the Warbirds of Glory Museum was born. Located in Brighton, MI, the Museum’s mission is to restore and fly period aircraft and present a unique educational opportunity to understand the Second World War experience and to mentor students in mechanical skills, aircraft restoration, and American values. Those students are a part of the Museum’s Kittyhawk Academy program. Students work alongside aircraft mechanic volunteers to restore the Sandbar Mitchell to flying condition to honor the crew of ship 8Z of the 340th bomb group and 488th bomb squadron.

As Mihalek’s project began to gain traction, as with most restoration projects, there were some expected and unexpected challenges.

“Sadly while Sandbar Mitchell was abandoned on the sandbar someone had removed the control yokes from the aircraft,” says Mihalek. “This is one of the key items from a B-25 that is very hard to replace.”

While the Museum was able to procure some parts, including new casted replicas of the yokes (the originals were taken out of the Sandbar Mitchell sometime after its crash), those parts were made for display only and not suitable for flight.

And when reviewing the list of static B-25 “Mitchell” aircraft, they were all property of the USAF.

Enter: the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum.

“When we learned that the cut-a-way display at SAC was owned by the museum, we had hoped that maybe we could trade,” says Mihalek.

That B-25 cutaway (42-8738) sits right next to the B-25N “Mitchell” in Hangar A and took an interesting, albeit unfortunate path to the Museum. It was purchased by a private business in the Omaha area to serve as either a crop duster or aerial fire fighter aircraft. The business actually purchased three B-25s. Fortunately or unfortunately, during early training flights, the aircraft experienced a hard landing and needed some repairs. The business closed and the other two aircraft were sold. The Museum’s B-25 was left at the South Omaha Airfield until redevelopment in the area forced it to be moved to Eppley Airfield. Not long after, the aircraft was offered to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum at Offutt AFB where it was moved, modified and displayed.

 

As Museum Curator, Brian York describes, “Patrick reached out to us as he was searching for B-25 parts that were salvageable and met FAA regulations. He noticed we had a B-25 in our collection and reached out to myself and Andy (Museum Restoration Manager, Andy Beemer) to see if we had any leftover parts from the restoration. He then asked if we knew of any B-25 he could pull from and we mentioned we had a cutaway B-25 that we owned. From there he set up the visit to come out and survey the aircraft for parts they need.” 

After a meeting and a few phone calls, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum was on board and happy to support the Warbirds of Glory project and student program by allowing us to trade the static yokes for the originals. 

“The originals were studied carefully by our students and the replica ones painted to match,” Mihalek explains.  “To date, the SAC Museum has supplied the much needed control yokes as well as the RH aft portion of the engine nacelle.”

Currently, the restoration of Sandbar Mitchell is in the re-assembly phase of the Wing Center Section and buildup of the main wing spars.  One of the bigger projects includes completing the inventory of parts.  Specifically, making a complete Bill of Materials List for the 

B-25 that includes all that parts not listed in the parts manual from the drawings.  

Says Mihalek, “With this it will allow us to have a better understanding of the parts we need compared to what we have in inventory.  Sadly, some of our components do not pass airworthy standards and that is where SAC is going to help us by allowing us to swap parts.”  

Next for Patrick and his team will be the restoration of B-25 parts that don’t pass inspection at the Warbirds of Glory Museum by Kittyhawk Academy students. These will be restored to static condition, to represent what is currently in the static aircraft.  Once a large group of parts is prepared, Mihalek and his team will travel back to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum to trade out parts.  All parts removed from the static B-25 will go through what’s known as non-destructive testing to be re-certified for airworthiness.  

Learn more about this restoration at www.warbirdsofglory.org

Images from the restoration of the Sandbar Mitchell

Bryan Vrsek, a restoration volunteer as well as one of the Museum’s CAD assistant instructors
Warbirds of Glory’s Patrick Mihalek, Museum Director & Head of Restoration
Sean Farrelly, a graduate student, who is now a certified A&P Mechanic
Curator Brian York

Brian York

Curator, Exhibits & Collections

Brian started his career at the Museum in 1998 as an intern. A year later he was promoted to Associate Curator with a focus on managing the artifact and archive collection. In January of 2000, following a search for a new Curator, the Museum named Brian York as Curator of Exhibits and Collections. For more than 20 years, Brian has overseen the creation and/or installation of more than 120 exhibits and displays that have covered more than 300,000 square feet. He has also overseen the addition of 15,000 artifacts to the Museum’s collection and has provided in-depth research for numerous books, articles, and video/film productions.

Currently Brian oversees all historical exhibits, archives, library, and oral history projects as well as provides support for restoration, education and public relations. Brian earned a BA in History as well as Graduate Studies in History from the University of Nebraska – Omaha. Prior to joining the Museum, Brian gained valuable experience through his work with the General Dodge Home, National Park Service and Western Heritage Museum (now the Durham Museum).

In 2002, Brian joined the U S Navy Reserve with whom he has completed several assignments in the United States and abroad. He currently serves as Battalion Supply Senior Chief Petty Officer and BRAVO CO. Lead Chief Petty Officer for Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 22 and with Operational Support Unit 1362, Navy Operational Support Center Omaha.

Brian lives in Lincoln, NE with his wonderful wife Amber and their two amazing daughters, Cayleigh and Shannyn.