Monday, April 16, 2012

Alva native pilots B-25 for special show

Executive Sweet, shown with Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle at an earlier reunion of the Doolittle's Raiders, will arrive at the Alva Regional Airport about 10 a.m. on May 21. Bob Baker will provide a fighter escort with his P-51 Warbird. 
Photo courtesy of 

Look to the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a formation of War Birds headed for the Alva Regional Airport on April 21. Alva native Lt. Col. John 'Weebs' Wiebener will pilot the B- 25 'Executive Sweet' on its journey back to California from Urbana, Ohio and the 70th Reunion of Doolittle's Raiders. Two dozen B-25s and the five surviving crewmen from the legendary raid met for what was billed as the final reunion. On April 18, 1942, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they took off from an aircraft carrier on a top secret mission to bomb Japan. 

These men, led by Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, came to be known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. The fully restored warbird will be given a fighter escort to the Alva airport by local pilot Bob Baker's P-51s positioned at the B-25's wingtips. 

Static Display 

The warbirds will do a fly-over before landing at the airport at approximately 10 a.m. Once they land, the B-25 will be on static display for anyone who wants to see it until 5:30 p.m. The pilot and crew will be available for photos during this time. A minimum $5 donation will be asked to tour the plane. T- shirts and hats will also be for sale. "It's extremely expensive to keep these old planes flying," Wiebener said. Wiebener said the airport board and Plane Plastics have been extremely helpful in planning this event. 

The special visit will coincide with the monthly EAA pilots' meeting. Rides lasting approximately 30 minutes will be available for $425 per person, a minimum of four persons, and a maximum of six passengers. A one-on-one instructional ride can be purchased for $2,500. On this ride, the purchaser will pretty much fly the plane from takeoff to touchdown. 

World War II veterans are invited to a barbecue dinner at 6:30 p.m. at Bob Baker's hangars. Veterans planning to attend are asked to RSVP to Plane Plastics at 580-327-1565 so enough food can be prepared. Veterans will get to meet the crew and get a close look at the plane. If a veteran wants to purchase a flight, they need to be at the airport around noon.

The Pilot 

This journey marks 'Weebs' first flight at the controls of the legendary plane. The Alva native flew F-16 fighter jets during his career with the U.S. Air Force. Lt. Co. Wiebener flew 27 missions over Iraq during Desert Storm. Wiebener started flying in 1978 while attending college in Florida. "I grew up on a farm west of the Alva airport watching planes take off and land all my life," he said. 

At one point in time, his grandpa had a T6 and a Birdog stored in the barn on the farm. While other kids pretended to drive tractors or cars, Weebs pretended to fly those planes. "I must have flown around the world 100 times," he said of those imaginary trips.

Since retiring from the Air Force, Wiebener returned to his home in Albuquerque, N.M., where he began a second career as a pilot for FedEx. "This has been a wonderful second career for me," he said. "I'm flying the newest and largest airplane in the FedEx fleet. This last week I flew one that had only 40 hours on it. It still had the 'new car' smell." When asked about his selection as pilot for this mission, Wiebener answered saying, "It was mostly persistence." 

Two of Wiebener's fellow FedEx pilots fly B-25s periodically and knew of his desire to fly this airplane. "I think they realized they needed an additional pilot," Wiebener said. "I've been wanting into the war bird world for quite a while." Wiebener said the entire war bird world is about networking. "Once you're flying for one person, they'll see you and like what you are doing," he said. "My ultimate motive is to fly a variety of war birds." 

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