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Thu, Oct 30, 2008

Times Not So Divine For Historic B-25

'Heavenly Body' To Be Left Out In The Cold

A struggle by California warbird enthusiasts is demonstrating a sad truth -- the costs of storing and maintaining vintage World War II aircraft bombers is becoming too expensive for the little guy.

Mike Pupich is 77 years-old, and says his interest in the B-25 Mitchell dates back to his early childhood, when he sat on his parents' couch in their South Los Angeles home, held a silver platter, and pretended it was a control yoke.

Fast forward to 1972: Pupich, by now a war veteran himself, found and bought "Heavenly Body," a B-25J, one of 18 B-25s featured in the 1972 film adaptation of Catch-22. Over the last 36 years, Pupich and his all-volunteer crew have restored and flown the historic aircraft, taken it to airshows, and kept it in a huge hangar at Van Nuys Airport, paying just $900 a month in rent.

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that plans to demolish the old hangar to make way for new jet hangars at Van Nuys is forcing Pupich and his crew to find the plane another home. With similarly-sized hangars at Van Nuys now going for $6,000 a month, and avgas skyrocketing in price, moving to another hangar -- or flying the 150-gallon-per-hour plane to a new home at a far-away airport -- have both proven too expensive for Pupich and his volunteers.

And so, Heavenly Body has sat since October 4, tied down on the tarmac at Van Nuys, exposed to heat, UV damage, and the winds, ash and dust of wildfire season. Pupich has tried to protect the plane with tarps, but damage is already becoming evident.

"I wanted to cry," he said. But what else can I do? All I want to do is save our plane."

Selena Birk, Van Nuys Airport General Manager, says officials have succeeded in finding new homes for 30 other historic aircraft, but Pupich represents a unique challenge. Choosing her words kindly, she told the paper, "The problem is that they are price-sensitive. They have a home... it's just not their preferred location."

It's understandably distressing to see Heavenly Body left to the elements. The plane is considered by many to be the best surviving example of a B-25, and was even chosen to take off from the deck of the USS Ranger in San Diego Bay in 1992, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Doolitle Raid.

The sad moral of the story may be that unless you're in the Kermit Weeks demographic, the era of personal warbird ownership may be nearing an end.

FMI: www.b25.net/

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