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.”
This was a great article and very informative about flying characteristics of these great old war birds. Thanks psh
I really enjoy such informative details on the flying characteristics of these warbirds. Once you know all the technical details, this stuff is the icing on the cake. Great stuff. Thanks.
Great article Richard! I remember my time in Kissimmee and the fun times i had working on those planes and the crew around Tom! Will never forget!
Such a great guy Tom is!
Thanks very much Rich! Tom is indeed a fascinating fellow, and I’ve always enjoyed the time I spent with him… so much to learn, and from such a gifted teacher! Great to hear from you…
I knew Tom in Kissimme on June 2000 in my vacation trip from Argentina to Orlando, i was fascinated with the shop, the B25, de FW 190 White one, the P40, DC3 and the AT6, and all the war bird on display and restorations he had. Thank Tom for all of this!!!
I am 99 year old retired USAF Colonel. The B-25 was my first love which I flew from Mitchel Field in 1942. Last flew it at Air War College in 1957.On 5 September 2015 Tom graciously gave me a flight at the controls of his beautiful Killer B from the Valiant Air Command Warbirds Museum at TiCo airport FL.. Tom is amazing. He is master of the B-25, a great pilot and a wonderful gentleman. Hugh Maxwell
I knew Mr. Reilly when he lived in Kissimmee. I was working in Morrisons Cafateria and one day he give me his business card and wrote that I and my family had a free admission to his Vintage Aircraft Museum. I still have the card and I wish I had used it to see the airplanes.
Sounds like a hard plane to fly like the Mustang, you don’t just jump into it and take off. I fly a lot of the warbirds on a flight simulator, and it is a blast. Tom you are blessed to fly them in real time. My daughter Rosseta has told me she was hoping to ride on the B 25 this weekend at an air show in Flordia her boyfriend has helped you work on some of the planes. I would like to meet you some day my name is Richard Ayers. Keep them flying Tom.
I refueled the Caldwell B-25 when it was still flying in 1970, I was a line boy at Caldwell-Wright Airport. The 25 was being used as a camera plane for a Dustin Hoffman movie. It went derelict after filming ending.
Good to see an article about Tom Reilly, have heard very little about him for a while. Used to visit his workshop every time I visited Orlando and Kissimmee from 1994 and onwards, great fun to see his engineers restore those warbirds, once he was doing 3 B17 at the same time. Was fun to see all the guides making every visit memorable, have a lot of photos from his workshop. Sad it was damaged in 2004, would have been visiting his workshop still today if it was still there.
I was lucky enough to have spent years working with Tom during the 80’s and into the early 90’s. It was by far my most memorable time in my early life. Best time was when we moved the B-25 from downtown Orlando to the new facility in Kissimmee.