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Sat, Aug 12, 2023

B-25 Restoration Spans 40 Years

Doolittle Trainer Pulled from S.C. Lake in 1983

On 06 June 1944—a date that ought mean a great deal to all the world’s free-ish people—some 150,000 U.S., British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy as Operation Overlord roared into action and the great Allied campaign to retake Western Europe from the Nazi aggressor got underway.

As allied men and machines fought, inch-by-inch, up the beaches of Northern France, a North American B-25 Mitchell medium-bomber mounted an impromptu and ill-advised offensive of its own against the waters of South Carolina’s Lake Greenwood—a man-made body of water along the Palmetto State’s Saluda River and some 3,600-nautical-miles west of Normandy.

The long, narrow lake was calm and idyllic on D-Day as U.S. Army Air Corps pilot Colonel Dan Rossman swooped the B-25 low for what aviation legend contends was a look at the bathing beauties ornamenting its shores.

Distracted, Rossman persisted in the descent until the propellers of the 20,300-pound bomber’s twin engines struck the placid water’s surface. Startled from his contemplations, Rossman hauled the yoke rearward, sending the B-25 into a deep accelerated stall and a subsequent low-speed plunge into the lake's murky waters.

Though Rossman and his crew-mates escaped with their lives, the bomber sank ignominiously to Lake Greenwood’s muddy bottom, where it sat for forty long years—passing into legend as the centerpiece of one of the strangest stateside events of the Second World War.

In an audio diary recorded shortly before his 2014 death, Rossman set forth the lack of waves, breakers, or similar distinguishing features on the lake’s surface rendered it "literally impossible to judge your altitude over the water within twenty to thirty feet."

"We were coming over the lake, and I remember seeing off to my left a man in a boat, fishing. I think we were eye-to-eye, and if we're eye-to-eye with each other, that means we're too low," Rossman recounted.

Attempts to raise the B-25—the rightful designation of which was GF2 but, through affection and repetition, has come to be known as Skunkie—began in the early 1960s.

It wasn’t until 1983, however, that the B-25 was recovered from the esurient waters of Lake Greenwood and thrust back into the awareness of a very different America.

As Journey’s Faithfully and Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart ruled the nation’s airwaves and Return of the Jedi dominated its box offices, Skunkie—the only known more-or-less intact specimen of a B-25 in which Doolittle’s Raiders trained—was raised to the fanfare of some 1,500 spectators.

For several years, Skunkie passed from owner to owner, sinking all the while into obscurity of a drier, crueler sort. Finally, the venerable bomber was purchased by a group of South Carolina pilots and aviation enthusiasts who collectively founded the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation.

Extant, still, the Foundation aspires to see the state of South Carolina fund and open an aviation museum, the centerpiece of which would be none other than Skunkie—which the Foundation’s members have toiled for years to restore.

South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation chairman of restoration Ron Skipper remarked: “South Carolina has a rich aviation history that goes back to the 1920s.”

Mr. Skipper asserted the Foundation would happily create an aviation museum in South Carolina, were that it had the financial resources to do so.

Ergo, short on cash but possessed of a wealth of passion, determination, and know-how, the Foundation’s focus remains firmly fixed on fully restoring Skunkie to its wartime splendor. The ongoing endeavor is funded wholly by open houses and private donors.

On Saturday, 12 August 2023, the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation will host an open house to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Skunkie’s emergence from Lake Greenwood. Members of the Navy diving team by which the aircraft was evaluated prior to its raising will be in attendance, as will a variety of military vehicles and military impressionists. The event will be held at Columbia, South Carolina’s Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport (CUB) in Hangar Y-1—adjacent the main terminal. Doors open at 10:00 EDT and the festivities will continue until 13:00 EDT.

FMI: https://schistoricaviation.org

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