"That's a good airplane," Jim Brown, 94, said admiringly.
The good airplane that caught Brown's eye was a twin-engine B-25 medium bomber, just like the ones that carried him on 72 combat missions during World War II.
This particular B-25 flew into Lexington on Monday morning to visit the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at Blue Grass Airport.
Brown dropped by just hoping for a close look at the plane. But he was quickly persuaded to climb aboard for a ride over the city, his first B-25 flight in 68 years.
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"I hadn't done much flying of any kind for several years; I kind of felt like I used up all my brownie points in the war," Brown said afterward. "But it brought back a lot of memories."
The B-25 that Brown rode in — named Maid in the Shade — is one of three famous WWII planes that will be visiting the aviation museum this week. A P-51 Mustang fighter and a Navy SBD Dauntless dive bomber are scheduled to arrive Friday.
The three planes will be available for paid flights Friday, Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. The B-25 also will be open for cockpit tours at the museum Tuesday through Saturday.
This is one case in which the term iconic really applies. The Mustang was considered the best fighter plane of the war. Dauntless dive bombers sank four Japanese aircraft carriers during the 1942 Battle of Midway, changing the course of the conflict in the Pacific. Sixteen B-25s flew the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan in April 1942.
Almost 10,000 B-25s were built, serving everywhere in the war from Europe to the Pacific.
Maid in the Shade is one about 20 B-25s still flying, said crew member Roland Smith. The plane is owned by the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a preservation group.
Many University of Kentucky fans remember Brown as the man who attended 412 consecutive home UK football games from 1945 until a bad cold stopped his streak in 2009.
During the war, he was a B-25 navigator-bombardier with the 490th Bombardment Squadron, better known as the Burma Bridge Busters. As the name implies, the Busters were assigned to bomb bridges in Japanese-held Burma to keep supplies from along the Burma Road.
Brown's closest shave was on Thanksgiving Day 1944, when his plane lost an engine while bombing the Namhkai Bridge in Burma. Somehow, the B-25 kept flying, and the crew landed safely in a jungle clearing to be picked up later. Afterward, Brown flew 42 more missions.
"That," he said, "was a good airplane."
Want a ride?
To reserve rides in the B-25, the P-51 or the Dauntless at Bluegrass Airport call (480) 322-5503 or email email@example.com.
Admission to see the planes and visit the museum is $12 for ages 13 and older, and $8 each for ages 6-12, free for children younger than 5. For more information call 859-231-1219 or go to Aviationky.org.