Avgeeks See Aircraft in Movies as Stars in Their Own Right
For Avgeeks, movies featuring airplanes are nearly always must-sees. Well, almost always. The airplanes are often the stars of the movie- whether the movie is good, bad, or horrible, to many the aircraft get at least co-star credit. Witness Top Gun, Airport (all of them), 12 O’Clock High, Fire Birds, Air Force One, Battle of Britain, Tora Tora Tora, Pearl Harbor, Always, Forever Young, The Right Stuff, Catch-22, Flying Leathernecks, Flight of the Phoenix, Flight of the Intruder, The Bridges at Toko-Ri, Blue Thunder…the list is thousands long but you get the idea. In these days of computer-generated imagery (CGI) there are more and more movies being made without any real aircraft on the screen.
Television shows featuring flight also draw the attention of those of us with our heads in the clouds. Airwolf, Baa Baa Black Sheep (or Black Sheep Squadron in syndication), Magnum P.I., and episodes of everything from Twilight Zone to Batman have all held our rapt attention and drawn our criticism or admiration. Many of the aircraft we’ve seen in movies or on TV, sometimes going back decades, have starred in several productions. Such is the case with the North American B-25J-25-NC, Army Air Force serial number 44-30423. You’ve almost certainly seen this Mitchell before, but you may not realize how many times.
Born on Date
B-25J-25-NC serial number 44-30423 (NAA Mfg. Number: 108-33698) rolled out of the doors at North American Aviation’s Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas, on 13 January 1945 and was delivered to the US Army Air Forces on 16 January 1945. It’s indicative of the late-war production might of America that 44-30243, spanking-new current-model medium bomber was accepted but declared surplus immediately after being delivered to the Army Air Force. The bomber was first flown to Brookley Army Airfield (AAF) in Mobile for storage and then in May 1945 flown to Laurel AAF in Mississippi. 423 spent more than year in storage at Laurel, during which time she was redesignated TB-25J.
One Flexible Bomber
On 31 January 1946, 423 was flown to Kelly AAF near San Antonio in Texas and briefly assigned to the 4121st Base Unit at Kelly. On 11 April 1946 the aircraft was flown to Dayton AAF in Ohio for conversion to the EB-25J configuration. Four years to the day later, EB-25J 44-30423 went to Griffis AFB in New York for duty with the 3171st Electronic Research and Development (ERD) Group. 24 June 1952 saw 423 assigned to the 6520th Air Base Group at Hanscom AFB in Massachusetts. The aircraft departed Hanscom on 8 June 1953 for depot-level maintenance and returned to Hanscom on 14 September 1953, this time for service with the 6520th, which had been redesignated a Test Wing.
On to a New Career
On 17 August 1954 423 was flown to Laurinberg-Maxton Field in North Carolina for conversion to the JB-25J configuration. On 21 February 1956 she as flown to Birmingham and modified back to the TB-25J configuration.15 May 1957 saw the bomber head west to North American Aviation’s Inglewood facility for participation in a shadowy test program. During August of 1958 44-30423 was flown to Davis-Monthan AFB and placed in open desert storage. Declared surplus in February of 1959, the aircraft was sold to National Metals and assigned the civil registration number N3675G on 30 July 1959. National Metals sold the aircraft to John Carter and John Jacobson of Rancho Cordova, California, in March of 1960.
When John Carter passed away in 1965, N3675G was donated to Ed Maloney’s Air Museum in Ontario, California and spent the next eight years there until being transferred to the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. The TB-25J, by then named ‘Photo Fannie’, called Chino home when central casting came looking for a B-25 for use in the 1992 Warner Brothers film Forever Young. A B-25 was needed for two scenes. The first, an establishing scene appearing early in the film, depicts Mel Gibson’s character Daniel McCormick crashing what’s supposed to be the prototype North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. McCormick survives the crash but his girlfriend is seriously injured in an accident. Her resulting coma is the reason McCormick elects to become a test pilot of a different sort- for a suspended animation experiment.
First Major Acting Credit
Fast forward (literally) to 1992. McCormick has been awakened from his cryogenic nap that lasted well past the intended single year and discovers his girlfriend is still alive after all. McCormick eyes a B-25 warbird (N3675G wearing new paint) at an airshow and takes off in search of his girlfriend, who he eventually finds. The ‘Alexander Field’ location in the film is an old airstrip near Moorpark in California. The tower at Van Nuys airport filled in for the Alexander Field tower. The airshow at which McCormick takes off in the B-25 was filmed at Los Alamitos Army Airfield. The final scene, where a now elderly McCormick (with a little help from stowaway Nat) lands the bomber and meets his girlfriend, was shot at Point Arena off Route 1 on the California coast. The estimable Steve Hinton piloted ‘Photo Fanny’ for the flying scenes in Forever Young. And no actual flyable B-25s were harmed in the making of the film.
N3675G has worn several paint jobs over the years. Painted in generic colors she starred in the ‘Super-Colossal Affair’ episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. She was ‘Betty Grable’ for her appearance in the ‘Betty Grable Flies Again’ episode of Simon & Simon. She then morphed into ‘Shangri-La Lil’ for her role in the ‘Shangri-La Lil’ episode of Salvage 1. She has also worked as a camera ship for many years, employing a special frameless perspex nose bubble and modified tail gun position both ideal for air-to-air photography work. ‘Photo Fanny’ next starred in the 2000 Touchstone movie Pearl Harbor. Used for the portion of the film depicting Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo, 44-30423 wore serial number 40-2261 for her role as ‘Ruptured Duck’ in the film.
She was also flown off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CVA-64) and over Gary, Indiana- the stand-in for Tokyo in the film. When shooting the crews of the B-25s training for their short deck-run takeoffs at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Tustin in California, local residents panicked and believed an actual war had started…using World War II-vintage aircraft. The recent Paramount TV mini-series version of Catch-22 also employed 44-30423 as both a star (as ‘Fly Me High’) and a photography platform- one of only two actual B-25s appearing in the series. Interestingly, 44-30423 was not used for the 1970 Paramount version of the film.