Historic Aircraft Touch Down at Glacier Park International Airport

July 8, 2022
For Frank Shelt, a retired U.S. Air Force captain, getting an up close look at a B-25J Mitchell gave him an appreciation of the aviators that came before him.

Jul. 8—For Frank Shelt, a retired U.S. Air Force captain, getting an up close look at a B-25J Mitchell gave him an appreciation of the aviators that came before him.

For his daughter, Kristie Birkenstock, it was a chance to let her children touch history, possibly spark an interest in aviation and bond with grandpa.

But for 8-year-old Tad Birkenstock, it was the design and color scheme — a gleaming metallic fuselage accented with teal-tipped engines — that proved most appealing. His 7-year-old twin sisters, Lela and Linnea Birkenstock, agreed that the machine guns bristling from the body won't easily be forgotten.

"I really liked those guns in the plane," Lela said.

"The guns," said Linnea after a moment of thought.

The family was one of about a dozen people on Wednesday inspecting "Maid in the Shade," a combat veteran of World War II, parked off of Glacier Park International Airport's Gate 7. The B-25J — joined Thursday by a B-17 Flying Fortress — was on public display as part of the Airbase Arizona Flying Museum and Commemorative Air Force's summer tour.

ORGANIZERS HOPE the chance to climb in and out of the historic warbirds will inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their studies. They also want visitors, regardless of age, to come away with a new appreciation of World War II aviators.

"We believe that the history really comes alive when you can get up and touch the airplanes, watch them start and fly in the aircraft," Mike Mueller, rides director with the museum, told the Daily Inter Lake prior to the aircrafts' descent into the Flathead Valley.

Mueller noted that Hollywood often makes the iconic aircraft look larger than life, belying the cramped conditions inside the narrow interiors. Set apart from the larger commercial aircraft coming and going from the terminal at Glacier Park International, Maid in the Shade basked in a limelight only occasionally interrupted by the roar of jet engines and the beat of a small helicopter.

Still, its relatively small size left an impression.

"The plane isn't really that big," said Jori Jones of Martin City. "It's really amazing to see it up close. You can see inside and, just wow, to think they actually did bombing."

Like Kristie Birkentstock, Jones has a personal tie to aviation. Her uncle served aboard a Flying Fortress and flew out of England during World War II.

"My uncle was kind of a small guy and now I see why they wanted him to be a pilot," she said.

While Jones planned to return later in the week to take a look at the B-17, she expressed hesitation at the thought of going up in one of the planes. As part of the tour, the museum is offering seats aboard the aircraft for flights over the weekend. Tickets range from $375 to $850.

"I'm not good in small planes," Jones said.

Linnea Birkenstock offered a similar admission, saying she would be "terrified" to go up in the plane.

"I thought when I got in it, it was going to tip over," the 7-year-old said after a trip up a rear ladder that led into the plane's interior.

Once aboard, though, they found room to move around, her brother said.

"To me, it looked like from the outside that it was smaller, but in the inside, it was bigger," Tad Birkenstock reported.

THEIR MOTHER hopes the visit will leave an impression on the trio. They come from "a proud Air force family," she said.

"The cool factor — right now they think it's pretty cool," Kristie Birkenstock said. "They will remember crawling in there. They also think their grandpa is pretty cool because of it."

A fourth-grade teacher at Stillwater Christian School, Kristie Birkenstock said she planned to share photos with her students and tell them about the experience, which included looking at the signatures and messages scrawled on the metal interior. Those signatures include members of the Doolittle Raid, who took earlier versions of the B-25 on the 1942 bombing run on Tokyo, Japan.

"It's a chance to see the history and what people did," said Frank Shelt when not swapping stories with the tour guides or peppering them with questions. Serving from 1971 to 1980, Shelt flew aboard technologically superior aircraft built for very different missions. The low speed at which the Mitchell flew would have sent his Phantom tumbling out of the sky, he noted.

"The difference to the airplane I flew, and the technology and how much it'd advanced ... you have to respect the guys that flew these," he said.

As for his grandchildren's reaction to touring the aircraft, Shelt chuckled.

"They think it's pretty cool stuff," he said. "That and dinosaurs."

The Mitchell and Flying Fortress will be available for tours with the purchase of a ticket from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Flights are scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and additional information, go to: https://www.azcaf.org/location/kalispell-mt-tour-stop/.

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or [email protected].


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