CAF SoCal Wing’s PBJ-1 Restoration Update

The PBJ is nearly ready to fly. - Aug.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
The PBJ is nearly ready to fly. - Aug.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
The PBJ is nearly ready to fly. – Aug.2014 – Dan Newcomb photo

The Commemorative Air Force’s SoCal or Southern California Wing in Camarillo, California has been working for roughly two decades to restore the only known example of the North American PBJ-1 Mitchell, a navalized version of the Army Air Force’s B-25 medium bomber. The US Navy acquired just over seven hundred PBJs for US Marine Corps units, and these served mostly in the South Pacific during WWII.

The CAF’s PBJ never saw combat, but they have painted her to represent an example flown in VMB-611.

The aircraft, initially ordered under a US Army Air Force contract as B-25J 44-30988, joined the Navy as PBJ-1J Bu.35857 in early 1945. By 1947, the aircraft was surplus to requirements, and became one of just a handful of PBJs to make it onto the civilian market. She went through more than a dozen owners before joining the CAF in 1985 as a flyer. The SoCal Wing adopted her in 1993, by which point she was badly in need of repairs. A team of mechanics started working on her, anticipating a relatively easy transformation, but as they got more involved, it became clear that the Mitchell had serious corrosion problems, among many other issues. She required a near total rebuild. It was such a daunting task that the aircraft languished, as a mostly dormant pile of parts for much of the next decade. But since 2003, work picked up considerably on refurbishment, so now she is very close to flying once more. This burst of effort is accredited largely to the leadership of Marc Russell, who had the vision and the skills to galvanize the restoration crew in the tasks they needed to accomplish.

A lot of structural repairs have been necessary, including the replacement of significant amounts of the aircraft’s skin. The PBJ has more or less undergone a down-to-the-last-rivet restoration. One of the last big hurdles to overcome has been the rebuild of the port R-2600 engine, which the team rebuilt over the past year with the help of AeroTrader in Chino. The team estimates that they need roughly another $50,000 in order to finish the last of the sheet metal work, propeller overhaul and a few other details such, but they hope to have the Mitchell airworthy by early 2015. In order for that to happen though, they will need our help in raising the funds. If any readers are interested in contributing, please do visit the SoCal Wing’s website HERE to find out how.

What follows is a photo essay made by Dan Newcomb, a dedicated member of the SoCal Wing and the PBJ restoration team. He has been working on the aircraft nearly every weekend since 2003. The photographs and captions are shown here to describe the major work occurring on the PBJ in chronological order over the last ten years or so. We are very grateful to Dan for providing us with these images, and for his postings about the restoration on the Warbird Information Exchange. There is an excellent thread covering the topic HERE. If you’ve never visited WIX, as it’s known to many on the board, you really should as there are often fascinating topics discussed, and a wealth of informed and interesting individuals who regularly go out of their way to help answer questions or pitch in when needed.

And at the end of the photo essay, you will learn a little about Lt.Doit L Fish, whose crew is commemorated by the markings on the PBJ. Be sure to pay your respects to these brave men and the sacrifices of so many like them.

Re-skinning the rear fuselage. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
Re-skinning the rear fuselage in 2003. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
Reskinning the top side of the rear fuselage in early 2007 - (Dan Newcomb photo)
Reskinning the top side of the rear fuselage in early 2007 – (Dan Newcomb photo)

According to one of the chief volunteers on the project, Dan Newcomb, “We have overcome most of the old non-standard mods on the plane. When we got her, she had an air stair door aft. They had removed the bomb bay and the crew hatch aft. All of the flight control cables were run under the flooring. Most of the floors were plywood. In a past life she had been used as a test bed for an electronics company [Aero Industries of Addison TX] so there were scab patches everywhere. We have replaced most of the fuselage skins top and bottom from the bomb bay aft, installed a new bomb bay [and] a new crew hatch…. We have a crew of about eight guys most of which can only contribute one day a week.”

This is how the PBJ appeared when Dan Newcomb first joined the restoration team in 2003. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
This is how the PBJ appeared when Dan Newcomb first joined the restoration team in 2005. (photo by Dan Newcomb)

There was so much corrosion in the wings, that much of the skins needed replacing, and many of the ribs required substantial repairs as well…

Just a small sample of the wing corrosion - (Dan Newcomb photo)
Just a small sample of the wing corrosion discovered in 2005 – (Dan Newcomb photo)
The wings under rebuild.  - (Dan Newcomb photo)
The wings under rebuild. – (Dan Newcomb photo)
Wing ribs going back in after repairs. (Dan Newcomb photo)
Wing ribs going back in after repairs in 2007. (Dan Newcomb photo)
Wing Ribs going back in during 2007. (Dan Newcomb photo)
Wing Ribs going back in during 2007. (Dan Newcomb photo)
Hanging the main gear again in July 2007. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
Hanging the main gear again in July 2007. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
Testing the main gear uplocks. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
Testing the main gear uplocks. (photo by Dan Newcomb)
On her main gear for the first time in two years - Aug.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
On her main gear for the first time in two years – Aug.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Typical example of corrosion in the hat channels on the right wing - Sep.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
Typical example of corrosion in the hat channels on the right wing – Sep.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Note the gaps where the corroded hat channels were removed for replacement on the right wing - Aug.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
Note the gaps where the corroded hat channels were removed for replacement on the right wing – Aug.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Reskinning the forward belly - Sep.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
Reskinning the forward belly – Sep.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Reskinning the forward belly - Sep.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
Reskinning the forward belly – Sep.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Putting in new flooring in the forward crew areas - Sep.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
Putting in new flooring in the forward crew areas – Sep.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Fitting some of the flap actuators on the right wing - Nov.2007 - Dan Newcomb photo
Fitting some of the flap actuators on the right wing – Nov.2007 – Dan Newcomb photo
Working on the hydraulics - Nov.2008 - Dan Newcomb photo
Working on the hydraulics – Nov.2008 – Dan Newcomb photo
Collecting the unrestored wings from storage in Chino - Jan.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Collecting the unrestored wings from storage in Chino – Jan.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Cleaning the wings after a decade of storage in Chino is messy work - Feb.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Cleaning the wings after a decade of storage in Chino is messy work – Feb.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Just one of the scary repair jobs from decades past that the CAF found inside the outer wing panels - Feb.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Just one of the scary repair jobs from decades past that the CAF found inside the outer wing panels – Feb.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Repairing the starboard outer wing panel - Mar.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Repairing the starboard outer wing panel – Mar.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Repairing the starboard outer wing panel - May 2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Repairing the starboard outer wing panel – May 2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Working on the rear turret - Jun.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Working on the rear turret – Jun.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the elevators re-fabriced by the late Gill Grice - Jul.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the elevators re-fabriced by the late Gill Grice – Jul.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Repairing the starboard inboard flap - Jul.2009 - Dan Newcomb photo
Repairing the starboard inboard flap – Jul.2009 – Dan Newcomb photo
Reskinning portions of the starboard outer wing panel - Feb.2010 - Dan Newcomb photo
Reskinning portions of the starboard outer wing panel – Feb.2010 – Dan Newcomb photo
 Installing the new hat sections in the left hand fuel bay - Sep.2010 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the new hat sections in the left hand fuel bay – Sep.2010 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the new hat sections in the left hand fuel bay - Sep.2010 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the new hat sections in the left hand fuel bay – Sep.2010 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the stressed panels covering the left hand fuel bay - Feb.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the stressed panels covering the left hand fuel bay – Feb.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Preparing the right hand outer wing panel for installation on the aeroplane - Feb.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Preparing the right hand outer wing panel for installation on the aeroplane – Feb.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the right hand outer wing panel on the aeroplane - Feb.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the right hand outer wing panel on the aeroplane – Feb.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Bolting the right hand outer wing panel in place on the aeroplane - Feb.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Bolting the right hand outer wing panel in place on the aeroplane – Feb.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Getting started on the left hand outer wing panel - Mar.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Getting started on the left hand outer wing panel – Mar.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Some of the corrosion found in the left hand outer wing panel - Mar.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Some of the corrosion found in the left hand outer wing panel – Mar.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the floor in the nose section - Mar.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the floor in the nose section – Mar.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing new wiring in the port wing - Jun.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing new wiring in the port wing – Jun.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Bolting the right hand outer wing panel in place for the final time - Jul.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Bolting the right hand outer wing panel in place for the final time – Jul.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing new wiring in the port wing - Jul.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing new wiring in the port wing – Jul.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Test fitting the port engine (prior to its overhaul) - Jul.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Test fitting the port engine (prior to its overhaul) – Jul.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Bolting the right hand outer wing panel in place for the final time - Jul.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Bolting the right hand outer wing panel in place for the final time – Jul.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing new wiring in the port wing - Aug.2011 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing new wiring in the port wing – Aug.2011 – Dan Newcomb photo
The brand new starboard main fuel tank in position - Jan.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
The brand new starboard main fuel tank in position – Jan.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Final attachment for the left hand outer wing panel on the aeroplane - Mar.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Final attachment for the left hand outer wing panel on the aeroplane – Mar.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
The freshly restored undercarriage doors - May 2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
The freshly restored undercarriage doors – May 2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
The freshly repainted fuel bay stress doors - May 2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
The freshly repainted fuel bay stress doors – May 2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Repainting the PBJ in VMB-611 markings - Jun.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Repainting the PBJ in VMB-611 markings – Jun.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
The partially repainted PBJ looking more like her old self again - Aug.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
The partially repainted PBJ looking more like her old self again – Aug.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the new nose gear - Sep.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the new nose gear – Sep.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Fitting the engine cowlings - Sep.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Fitting the engine cowlings – Sep.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Undercarriage retraction tests - Oct.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Undercarriage retraction tests – Oct.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Painting the stars and bars - Dec.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Painting the stars and bars – Dec.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Pealing of the masking tape over the stars and bars - Dec.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
Pealing of the masking tape over the stars and bars – Dec.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
The freshly repainted stars and bars - Dec.2012 - Dan Newcomb photo
The freshly repainted stars and bars – Dec.2012 – Dan Newcomb photo
Test fitting the bomb bay doors. - Jan.2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
Test fitting the bomb bay doors. – Jan.2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
Rebuilding the bomb bay doors. - Feb.2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
Rebuilding the bomb bay doors. – Feb.2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
The PBJ after receiving her nose art. - Mar.2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
The PBJ after receiving her nose art. – Mar.2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
A veteran signing the bomb bay doors. - Mar.2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
A veteran signing the bomb bay doors. – Mar.2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing a freshly overhauled mid-upper turret. - Jul.2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing a freshly overhauled mid-upper turret. – Jul.2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
The zero-timed starboard engine awaiting installation. - May 2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
The zero-timed starboard engine awaiting installation. – May 2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
Hanging the still-to-be-overhauled prop on the freshly installed starboard engine. - Jul.2013 - Dan Newcomb photo
Hanging the still-to-be-overhauled prop on the freshly installed starboard engine. – Jul.2013 – Dan Newcomb photo
The PBJ looking externally complete for the first time in decades. - Aug.2013
The PBJ looking externally complete for the first time in decades. – Aug.2013
The hugely expensive brand new plexiglas dome for the mid-upper turret. - Aug.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
The hugely expensive brand new plexiglas dome for the mid-upper turret. – Aug.2014 – Dan Newcomb photo
The left engine, overhauled on site and ready for installation. - Aug.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
The left engine, overhauled on site and ready for installation. – Aug.2014 – Dan Newcomb photo
The left engine on its test stand. - Oct.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
The left engine on its test stand. – Oct.2014 – Dan Newcomb photo
Hanging the left engine. - Oct.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
Hanging the left engine. – Oct.2014 – Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the replica side armament. - Oct.2014 - Dan Newcomb photo
Installing the replica side armament. – Oct.2014 – Dan Newcomb photo
Instruments are going into the cockpit, which has yet to receive its finished pilots' seats. Feb.2015 - photo by Moreno Aguiari
Instruments are going into the cockpit, which has yet to receive its finished pilots’ seats. Feb.2015 – photo by Moreno Aguiari
The port engine receiving some adjustments. The tail of the SoCal Wing's amazing Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV is visible at the right. Feb.2015 - photo by Moreno Aguiari
The port engine receiving some adjustments. The tail of the SoCal Wing’s amazing Supermarine Spitfire Mk.XIV is visible at the right. Feb.2015 – photo by Moreno Aguiari
The mid-upper turret has been removed for some final fitting adjustments. As you can see, the dust in the arid climes of southern California has left a faint veil over the PBJ as other parts are worked on. Feb.2015 - photo by Moreno Aguiari.
The mid-upper turret has been removed for some final fitting adjustments. As you can see, the dust in the arid climes of southern California has left a faint veil over the PBJ as other parts are worked on. Feb.2015 – photo by Moreno Aguiari.
The PBJ sitting in the SoCal hangar awaiting the final infusion of cash to finish her restoration. Feb.2015 - Moreno Aguiari.
The PBJ sitting in the SoCal hangar awaiting the final infusion of cash to finish her restoration. Feb.2015 – Moreno Aguiari.

The above photograph shows the present state of the SoCal Wing’s PBJ. She’s just awaiting a relatively small infusion of cash before she can take to the skies again.

The PBJ is painted to represent an aircraft from VMB-611 flown by Lt.Doit L. Fish. Fish was sadly killed during the war, but his son, David, is a SoCal Wing member, and deeply honored that his father would be memorialized this way. Here, David Fish tells us a little more about his dad’s wartime story.

David Fish:

“1st Lt Doit L Fish, was a PBJ pilot in VMB-611 under command of Lt Col George A Sarles. While I know little history on VMB-413, they served on Emirau as part of MAG-61. VMB-611 was also on Emirau, serving with her sister squadrons in MAG-61 from October 1944 to March 1945 before departing for Moret Airfield, Zamboanga, Mindanao.

Both Lt Col Sarles (PBJ-1D “MB 7”) and my father (PBJ-1J “MB 11”) were lost on May 30, 1945 while on a strike of the Kibawe Trail.

I have a photo of what I believe was VMB-611’s first “MB 11,” a PBJ-1D (BuNo unknown). I do not know its final fate; if it was damaged, lost or replaced. I do know that PBJ-1J BuNo 35243 was a replacement aircraft and it was assigned as “MB 11.” I have been told that the squadron received her sometime in April, and my father’s flight log indicates he first flew her May 7 during a strike on Del Monte.

On May 30, 1945, Lt. Col. Sarles led an all day multiple PBJ sweep of the Kibawe Trail near Davao. In the morning, his PBJ-1D “MB 7” was hit by AA fire. He and four crew members were KIA. The third pair of PBJs arrived over the area in the afternoon and having been advised that Sarles’ PBJ had been lost, began a search, but to no avail. While making runs on their target, my father, 1st. Lt. Doit L. Fish, flying PBJ-1J “MB 11,” became missing and was never seen again. He and his seven-member crew, including a passenger, were officially declared MIA.

In November 1956, the aircraft wreckage and skeletal remains were discovered near Carmen. What was left of “MB 11” was strewn over an area of 400-500 feet on a slope about 300 feet from the crest of a mountain peak. Found at the site were two engines, portions of the landing gear, eight .50 caliber machine guns, two .38 caliber revolvers, miscellaneous items, two crewmember’s “dog-tags” and portions of bones.

On July 15, 1957, the eight Marines were given a group burial, with full military honors, at Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, CO. As noted by surviving fellow pilots, the book on VMB-611 could now be closed…All planes are in.

It is an honor for me that our restoration crew decided to dedicate our PBJ-1J in the memory of VMB-611 and to name her “MB 11″ in tribute of my father.”

For a fascinating look at VMB-611 and its history, please click HERE to visit the bomber squadron’s website. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to the squadron HERE.

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Please don’t forget to visit the SoCal Wing’s website HERE to find out how you can help this PBJ finally take to the skies again! You can follow the SoCal Wing on Facebook HERE too. And there is a Facebook page dedicated to the restoration of their PBJ HERE.

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