Bremerton bids farewell to record-breaking AOPA Fly-In

Under towering blue skies and calm, clear weather, the Aviation Owners and Pilots Association on Saturday wrapped up the most successful Fly-In that the AOPA has ever organized.

The original Grumpy flew 125 missions before being retired back to the States

The original Grumpy flew 125 missions before being retired back to the States

BREMERTON — Under towering blue skies and calm, clear weather, the Aviation Owners and Pilots Association on Saturday wrapped up the most successful Fly-In that the AOPA has ever organized.

Even AOPA staff, which have organized and promoted the Fly-Ins for three years now, were duly impressed at the turnout for the event, held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 19 and 20, at Bremerton National Airport.

For the record, 694 aircraft paid a visit — well over pre-event estimates. They were greeted by a crowd of just over 4,000 people. Both of those numbers are AOPA all-time records.

The event also generated approximately $650,000 in economic benefit to the surrounding community. “We’re very pleased,” said Elizabeth Tennyson, the AOPA director of communications (and experienced pilot in her own right). “We really appreciate the way the community responded.”

With nearly 700 aircraft, there was eye candy galore for every aviation enthusiast. They ranged from small, light personal aircraft like Cessna 150s, and tiny, two-seat tail-draggers up to the star of the show: A North American B-25 D Mitchell. The B-25 is part of the collection housed and maintained at the Historic Flight Foundation (historicflight.org) at Paine Field in Everett. The seven aircraft in that collection belong to John Sessions, a highly-skilled pilot himself and a serious historic aviation enthusiast.

The reception for the B-25 is typical, and is repeated wherever the plane appears. Bill Mnich was the pilot for the aircraft at the event in Bremerton. “I think people enjoy being reminded of the role these aircraft played in saving the world. That is no exaggeration.”

This particular aircraft never actually saw combat, serving instead as a trainer (a major reason the aircraft still exists). It is painstakingly painted to look like the most famous B-25 of all: Grumpy. In an era when an aircraft and its flight crew stood about a 40 percent chance of surviving the requisite 25 missions before the crew rotated home, Grumpy, by comparison, flew 125 straight missions with no problems. It was retired after the 125th mission; although rumor has it that Grumpy was destroyed in a training crash following the war.

“It handles about like any World War II warbird would,” said Mnich, the pilot. “It has no hydraulic assist for the cable and pulley controls, so it takes some muscle to maneuver. But it’s light, much more agile than the B-17, is faster and has a higher service ceiling.” Mnich estimated there were between 20 and 30 of the aircraft still flyable. They saw action in every theater of World War II.

And though Boeing’s legendary B-17 Flying Fortress seems to have earned a special place in the hearts of the general public, knowledgeable pilots consider the B-25 to be the pre-eminent airplane of World War II.

“You can easily spend $4 or $5 million restoring a World War II fighter,” said Sessions, the plane’s owner and frequent pilot. “This aircraft is probably the least expensive one in our collection, yet it seems to get the most love.

“It’s a beast, and it takes a lot of TLC to keep it going, but it is a privilege to fly it.”

The event broke several AOPA records for attendance. As of midday Sunday there 694 landing operations recorded. Rather than the original estimated attendance of about 2,200 people, more than 4,000 were on-site on Sunday morning.

With dozens of glamor aircraft on display, the B-25 D Mitchell was the star of the show. Fans stood in line in hot, sticky sunshine for the privilege of paying $495 for a 30-minute guest flight. Proceeds from the “revenue flights” went to support the Historic Flight Foundation. Photo by Mark Briant

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