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Examiner
  • Frank Haight: WWII fighter pilot awed by his Stealth experience

  • Standing in awe as the lightning-fast B-2 Stealth Bomber streaked high above the Truman Sports Complex, a “what if” thought flashed across the mind of Maynard “Mitch” Mitchell, a former World War II Navy pilot.

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  • Standing in awe as the lightning-fast B-2 Stealth Bomber streaked high above the Truman Sports Complex, a “what if” thought flashed across the mind of Maynard “Mitch” Mitchell, a former World War II Navy pilot.
    “What if I could fly one of those mammoth jets some day,” thought the 88-year-old Independence resident, who was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La and flew a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver in the Pacific Theater of War.
    For Mitch, who was inducted into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame two years ago in Midland, Texas, it was nothing more than a far-fetched dream. One he knew would never come to fruition.
    But that “what if” thought was always there.
    Little did Mitch realize when he attended the 2012 Hall of Fame program in Midland that his “what if” dream was about to become a reality – almost. No, he didn’t actually fly the B-2, but what he did was so close to reality that Mitch felt like it actually occurred.
    Here’s what happened: While dining with two B-2 pilots from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mitch recalls Lt. Col. Ron Bodine and Lt. Dale Wiles asking how he made his dive-bombing runs in his SP2C.
    After climbing to 15,000 to 20,000 feet, “We would dive at 70 to 80 degrees, drop our bombs at about 1,500 feet and pull out.”
    Says Mitch: “They were amazed at that, just as I was amazed at what they were doing.”
    Then Col. Bodine dropped a bombshell by asking Mitch if he would like to come to Whiteman and fly in a B-2 simulator.
    “Man, just tell me when,” an excited Mitch said to himself.
    On Nov. 16, Col. Bodine introduced Mitch to the simulator, which he describes as “a fantastic piece of equipment. You sit in that thing and it does all these maneuvers.”
    Not only did Mitch theoretically take off and land the Stealth bomber, which led the “Shock and Awe” campaign in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but he also was able to theoretically hook up with a tanker, take on fuel and pull away.
    “I look up and there is a tanker on the screen. It was so real,” he says of the simulator, which is an exact replica of a B-2 cockpit. “You can’t believe it is so real.”
    How real is it?
    “It’s so real, that when it was all over, I felt like I was getting out of an airplane rather than a simulator,” he says, then pauses. “It’s that real.”
    So real, in fact, that Mitch felt the bouncing sensation in the simulator as the 17-foot-high jet was taxiing out.
    The time he spent in the simulator was one big WOW.
    Page 2 of 2 - “All I could say was ‘wow’ all the time. I couldn’t believe I was here and was doing all this. It is so, so real. ... Just sitting in the simulator was just like me riding in (the B-2).”
    As to his simulator performance, Mitch says: “I did fair, I guess,” noting the hardest thing about flying in the simulator was “overcorrecting” when the wing dropped a bit.
    “I wanted to bring it back up instead of easing it up,” he says, explaining that was the way he use to fly his Helldiver. After a pause, he adds: “Old habits are hard to break.”
    When Mitch cried “wow” for the final time in the simulator, he no doubt thought that would be his last shout of ecstasy for the day.
    But it wasn’t to be. More wows came later that day when he was given a close-up look at a B-2.
    Walking through the side door of a giant hanger, Mitch was greeted by a “huge, monster airplane with a 172-foot-long wingspan,” more than half the length of a football field.
    Wow! “You look up at that thing, and it looks like something from Mars,” he says. “It just takes your breath away.”
    Says Mitch: “When I saw it, my jaw dropped. I know it had to, because it was so huge.”
    After examining the outside of the 69-foot-long aircraft, known as the “centerpiece of American air power,” the stairway to the cockpit opened so Mitch could ascend the steps and try out the pilot’s seat. WOW!
    Unlike the eight to 10 instruments on the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver that Mitch flew over the South Pacific and Japan, the B-2 has scores and scores of computerized instruments lighting up the cockpit panels.
    How does the four hours Mitch spent at the air base near Knob Knoster, Mo., compare to other highlights in his life?
    “This has got to rank pretty high,” says Mitch, whose Helldiver was shot down making an assault on the Japanese battleship Haruna anchored in Kura Harbor in the Tokyo area.
    “I don’t know many people, besides the pilots, who have a chance to do (what I did). I don’t know how often this happens. I didn’t ask (Colonel Bodine), but I feel like I was the only one.” WOW!
    Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at  816-350-6363.
     
     

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