By Zac Yates
A North American B-25 which appeared in the film and TV adaptations of Catch-22 is under restoration for static display by a team of dedicated enthusiasts in Belgium.
TB-25N 44-30925, then registered N9494Z, flew as Laden Maiden in the 1970 film of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 novel. Then, at the end of the decade, was one of several B-25s which flew on an epic ferry trip across the Atlantic to the UK (led by John ‘Jeff’ Hawke) to appear in Hanover Street starring Harrison Ford. In the film, it was marked as Gorgeous George-Ann. Later, as G-BWGR and repainted as Thar She Blows, the B-25 was used as set dressing in 1981’s Eye of the Needle, after which the aircraft passed through a succession of owners who kept it in outside storage. The British weather took its toll on the aircraft by wearing away the layers of paint applied by various film crews and creating extensive corrosion to the wing spar.
The aircraft’s fortunes changed in late 2005 when a small group of Belgian enthusiasts, seeking a B-25 for static restoration, purchased the airframe (which by then was without engines) from her resting place, near Hull in the UK, with support from the Brussels Air Museum Fund. However, before the team could take delivery, unfortunately, the aircraft suffered further damage during transport to another outdoor storage facility.
While working with a company specializing in corrosion removal, the team made a start on restoration and remediation, in a rudimentary workshop, but when the company went bankrupt the airframe was moved yet again. Other trials and tribulations followed which ultimately saw a new group, the Belgian Aircraft Preservation Association a.s.b.l (BAPA), formed in 2013 to continue the restoration in a new workshop at Gembloux, Belgium.
Since then, the team has made great strides according to BAPA’s Loïc Desguin, who told Vintage Aviation News about the latest work being done on the bomber:
“Currently, we’re finishing up the nose section with as much as possible original equipment, and the tail section is also pretty well advanced, with only a bit of work at the tailskid level with corrosion damage to fix. We have a small group of electronic gurus currently making the radios and intercom fully working.”
Work on the aircraft was paused in 2018 so that the forward section could be transported to Rome for use as a prop for a TV series. The project? A new adaptation of Catch-22 no less! Once the aircraft had made this new ‘star turn’ in another production based on Heller’s novel, the nose was carefully transported back to Belgium so the volunteers could get back to work.
Another job currently underway at Gembloux is the restoration of a rare Bendix top turret which was acquired from Australia three years ago. This is being worked on for static display but with the option to make it partially or fully functional in the future depending on funding.
“The next big project, we hope to start in one or two years will be the restoration of the central section…” Loïc Desguin said, “…the worst damaged part of the plane with lots of corrosion and damage of poorly made transport. The section was stored directly on the ground a few times without a lot of consideration.”
BAPA has a wishlist of missing parts to complete the B-25 but getting them to Belgium is proving to be more difficult than buying them, Desguin said.
“Currently the most challenging thing for us is the transportation of parts from the USA to Europe: sometimes the cost of transport is equivalent to the price of the parts themselves. We hope to find contact in the transport sector with a deal for a reduce price on the transport of parts, but it’s not easy.”
The project is supported mostly by individual donors and by selling merchandise at various events around Belgium, as well as workshop tours, Desguin said.
“Financial donations are supported by the Fondation Roi Baudouin, an official Belgian institution that supports various cultural and historic projects. Donations are made to them for a specific project: they’re checking the good use of the donations by auditing us regularly and matching them by increasing the collected amount of a fixed ratio. For Belgian citizens, there is also a tax incentive.”
To learn more about the B-25 project and the other aircraft in the BAPA collection and to make donations of B-25 parts, drawings or to assist in fundraising visit their website and their Facebook page.