By Amy Lauria, Wing Leader of the CAF Minnesota Wing.
Tom Reilly has been in the warbird restoration business for over 40 years after a chance flight in a P-51 Mustang in Kissimmee in 1971. Not long after that flight Reilly had an opportunity to purchase some North American Yale Training aircraft from a friend in Canada. He ended up buying thirteen of them, and restored five to flying condition. The next big project was a derelict B-25 in Caldwell, NJ. The aircraft had served as the camera ship for the film “Battle of Britain” in 1968, but had lain abandoned for years before Reilly found it. He bought the aircraft from the lien holders and against all the odds and nay sayers, got it flying again. This B-25 started a long love affair for Tom Reilly with bomber-type aircraft.
Reilly’s big break came when he met Harry Doan from Daytona Beach, who graciously allowed Tom to fly his B-25 for his type rating (after Tom restored it). Reilly’s next big break came when he got a request from Bob Collings to do a pre-buy and purchase on a B-25 in Washington state. This developed into a close relationship. Tom restored Collings’ B-25J (now known as “Tondelayo”), and also his B-17G “Nine O Nine” and B-24J “Witchcraft”. Reilly has a habit of taking on jobs that most other restorers say ‘can’t be done’. This was surely the case with the Collings B-24, and also the sadly ill-fated B-17G “Liberty Belle” which both required a rebuild from the ground up. In all his years of being in the business, Tom has worked on at least thirty four major restorations which include ten B-25s, three B-17s, a B-24, a P-40, several F4U Corsairs and nine T-6/SNJs.
Tom was located in the Orlando/Kissimmee area of Florida for over 30 years. However, after Hurricane Charley destroyed his restoration shop and museum in 2004, he moved to Douglas, GA, to work part-time for Don Brooks restoring his P-40E. The Kittyhawk flew again in August, 2009. Reilly then helped complete a totally stock restoration of Brooks’ PT-17 Stearman by October, 2010. The Stearman had sat idle in an Atlanta hangar for some time, and had not flown for almost 40 years. Brooks had the plane restored in markings representing the wartime training base in Douglas.
As most WarbirdsNews readers will know, the latest project that Tom Reilly has been working on is the North American Aviation XP-82 Twin Mustang prototype. This aircraft is only one of two Twin Mustangs still civilian hands, of just five complete survivors. Tom and his team are restoring the XP-82 in Douglas, Georgia at the same airfield used by Don Brooks. Click HERE to check on the latest about the XP-82 twin Mustang restoration.
It goes without saying though that Tom Reilly is considered the master of the B-25, having restored ten of them. He has almost 2,500 hours flying them as well. WarbirdsNews recently had an opportunity to talk with him about what they are like to operate.
Tom considers the B-25 a simple airplane to fly, “once one gets used to the weight and balance of the aircraft. The B-25 is an extremely heavy airplane to control. Control forces are also extremely heavy with the exception of the elevator, which is feather light. Go figure. The other problem is that the wing loading is extreme. With the average flight weight of 26,000 lb and not much wing, when the airplane starts going in one direction and you enter opposite direction controls, it takes a while for anything to happen – especially on landing. One starts the initial flair at 100 ft. AGL, and then increases the pitch-up at 50 ft. AGL, and when you pull the power off, it sinks like an unpainted manhole cover. And, with the small wing, you really have to pull back hard to catch the sink, or you will hammer it onto the runway.”
Tom continued, “The radial engine work separates the men from the boys when dealing with a WWII Bomber. I have never been able to successfully train any airline pilot who does not have T-6, Twin Beech, or other WWII aircraft time, in a B-25. It’s beyond their capabilities to learn how to fly in a warbird of that weight that does not have immediate reaction to control inputs, and such poor performance on one motor.”