By Chuck Kubin, EAA 1089160
It started out as a tree house.
While most people try to keep their airplanes out of trees, Scott McEwen, EAA 704799, and his sons had the vision of doing just the opposite in 2001. How cool would it be to crossbreed an exact replica of a B-25 nose section with a tree house?
In 2013, EAA Chapter 43, in Erie, Colorado, took over the project with the idea of building a realistic B-25 simulator for its Young Aviators education efforts. The McEwen hangar home on the edge of Erie Municipal Airport became the McHangar, giving birth to what would be described in the project build notebook as “the first B-25 built since World War II.” The chapter’s project became a major feature of KidVenture at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015.
But the B-25 nose section is not just a static display.
“You don’t just sit in the pilot’s seat,” said Scott, who is now the project’s lead design engineer. “This is immersive education, incorporating all of the senses.”
The mission statement calls for a 1-to-1 replica of the cockpit, bombardier’s compartment, and the top turret, with functional flight and engine controls and functional instruments.
“Imagine climbing through the hatch and back in time to get the tactile experience of pulling the throttles or pulling the triggers of a real B-25 … in a package easily trailered to air shows across the country,” Scott said.
Education Director Bill Elliott said KidVenture visitors, while waiting to board, learn about the Doolittle Raid and other aspects of B-25 history and operations. A mission briefer assigns a pilot, copilot, navigator/bombardier, and radio operator/gunner, who prepare for the seven-minute mission to bomb a bridge in Italy, thus staving off a battle and potentially preventing hundreds of casualties. Once inside, Young Aviators members guide each position. The crew fires up the engines, taxi, takes off, and communicate by “radio” with an air traffic controller who doubles as another aircraft’s pilot.
Under Bill’s tutelage, a team of 20-plus Young Aviators spent several months learning how to instruct at the stations, teach the crew their jobs, and man communications, through a constant stream of classes on the aircraft, its history, and operations. By the time Oshkosh opened, the youths were experts on the B-25 and its crews and capable of teaching others, quite likely with a knowledge base that surpasses what most well-studied people would know about the bomber.
Except for the smells of cordite and spent oil (and the actual danger) everything is there in the B-25 nose. The instruments and controls are keyed to a computer program, running recordings of actual sounds made by the engines, electrical motors, and the guns. About 15 percent of what visitors see are original parts, such as the rotating turret, hatch, seats, pilot and copilot windows, and some interior items. What wasn’t donated or funded by sponsors was either home manufactured from photos and blueprints or designed from scratch, as closely to factory specs as possible.
As the project came together, the Young Aviators were in the thick of it, pounding almost all of the 6,000 rivets, stringing hundreds of feet of wire, assembling, screwing, drilling, designing, and assembling, all under the watchful eyes of EAA Chapter 43’s homebuilders. Several more EAA Chapter 43 members pitch in to keep the support work flowing, like making sure there’s plenty of kid fuel (pizza and cookies) on hand during build sessions. As with all huge projects, hundreds of unseen hours went into the background work to equip the youngsters with a powerful teaching tool, put both in place, and teach them to use it. Then there was the task of preparing the team for the week at Oshkosh and the logistics of getting them there, housing and feeding them and covering any other needs.
Eagle’s Nest, the name that has been given to the project, has appeared at the last three AirVentures in the KidVenture area at Pioneer Airport, on average putting between 900 and 1,000 kids through the B-25 each year. The nose section also makes appearances at other events, from local air shows to seven science, technology, engineering, and math-type expos, and a 1940s gala held annually in Boulder, Colorado.
“It is about aviation, but it is also about STEM,” Bill said. He explained the chapter collectively hopes the B-25 will spark youngsters to make informed decisions about their education and careers. More than just the thrill of seeing what B-25 crews saw, Eagle’s Nest is a mobile classroom that serves as a model of how new technology can bring the many facets of aviation and history to life.