World War II bomber being brought back to life

By Roger Weber - Reporter

BRIGHTON, Mich. - You could call it a mission, or maybe an obsession, but Patrick Mihalek and his team are determined to get a restored World War II bomber back into the skies.

They're working on a B-25 Mitchell, the same kind of plane Jimmy Doolittle's boys flew in a daring raid on Tokyo.

"There was over nine-thousand of these airplanes built. There's only 50 of them left in the world today," Mihalek said. "It will fly."

From auctions to eBay to a trip to the Alaskan wilderness, Mihalek is collecting pieces to assemble into the plane.

The inspiration behind the project came to him as a boy living next to an airfield in Brighton.

"From the time I was probably 8 years old, I was building airplanes via Legos or plastic models or balsa wood models with my grandfather. I always had this particular love for a B-25 Mitchell bomber," Mihalek said.

He went to college to get a degree in aviation maintenance and spent a lot of time studying  B-25s. When he learned that one had crashed near Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1969, he asked a friend, Todd Trainor, to check it out.

"Patrick and I practically fell off our chairs when we saw the pictures because we could see that the aircraft was in excellent condition," Trainor said.

The plane's middle section, the key piece in the restoration, had survived. To bring it back to Michigan, Mihalek and Trainor recruited volunteers and raised money through an online campaign.

"The first time seeing Sandbar Mitchell was kind of like that dream I had when I was a kid … here it is, this is reality," Mihalek said.

The old plane was nicknamed the Sandbar Mitchell because of the original crash site.

"We couldn't see the whole thing at once because trees were literally growing up right around it and through the middle of it," Trainor said.

Through hard work, the group was able to clear the trees and brought in a helicopter to lift out thousands of pounds of wreckage.

That wreckage was then delivered to a flatbed truck that hauled it 7,000 miles to a hanger in Michigan, where work began right away to put everything together.

When all is said and done, 90 percent of the airplane will be original parts.

"Any project, especially one this large, it takes time. It's not something that's self-gratifying right away," Mihalek said.

Also helping in the restoration are high school students, like 17-year-old Logan Kucharek.

"It's determination and patience. Not a lot of this airplane goes together at a fast pace, but, all of a sudden, the pieces fall together," Kucharek said.

It may take 10 years before the Sandbar Mitchell is airborn again, but Logan dreams of being at the controls.

"It's something that gets my heart pounding right now. I can't even describe how this is going to turn out. I'm sure it will be an eye-watering, amazing grace, flags flying kind of deal," Kucharek said.

There is a fundraiser Thursday, June 4, at 7 p.m. at the Brighton Center for the Performing Arts. For more details, or to donate to the restoration, click here.

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