We had the pleasure of finally meeting a person whose story we’ve been following for while. Patrick Mihalek, owner of Legend Of Aces Aviation and the man who is spearheading the effort to retrieve and restore a North American B-25 Mitchell, damaged in a forced landing, stripped and left for dead in the Alaskan wilderness in the 1960s.
Of course I’m talking about the Tanana River’s “Sandbar Mitchell,” soon to be Brighton, Michigan’s “Sandbar Mitchell” if all goes to plan. With help from his best friend and partner in this venture, Todd Trainor, director of the Aeronca Aircraft History Museum the remains of the plane were purchased from the descendants of the last owner, and scouting missions to Alaska were made. A successful kickstarter campaign, lucky break in the form of a helicopter company agreeing to donate lifting the fuselage to Fairbanks, lots of running around, sleepless nights, permit-getting and leg work has the retrieval portion of the project coming to a culmination, more or less RIGHT NOW.
When we arrived at Patrick’s shop, located in a hanger at Brighton Airport, one of two hangars they’re going to be using for the restoration, we got to take a look at the replacement nose they had acquired sitting in cradles waiting for the rest of the plane to arrive. As well as the other parts and pieces that have been accumulating for the restoration project. Helping Patrick at the shop, as he has for countless hours already, was 15-year old Logan who showed such intelligence and enthusiasm for warbirds that it really gives one hope for the future.
As we type this, Todd’s wife Anna is in Fairbanks getting everything ready for the rescue mission. Todd who has been in Fairbanks, is presently on his way back to Michigan, the volunteer rescue crew is being assembled, and tomorrow, 6/22/13, Patrick, Todd, Logan and the rest of the group will be heading up to “The Last Frontier” and to finally effect the retrieval of the Mitchell. Construction Helicopters out of Howell,Mi, who had agreed to donate the lift, had originally indicated they’d be able to do it either at the beginning or the end of the summer, but as it turns out it’s going to be sooner rather than later!
After the fuselage has been lifted to Fairbanks, it’ll be trucked to Michigan, and the easy part of getting the plane airworthy will be over and the real work will begin. In talking to Patrick, it was clear that he knows his stuff when it comes to aircraft restoration. He also seems to have a realistic and not unreasonably optimistic understanding of how long it will really take, which bodes well for this tremendous project.
Obviously our timing could have been better for the visit, being the day before they all leave for Alaska, but hey, we were in the neighborhood. The excitement in the air on this, the eve of the big mission was palpable and we wish Partrick, Todd, Anna, Logan and the rest of the crew good luck, a safe trip and an easy retrieval!