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Flying aces

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | August 15, 2020 1:08 AM

With D.C. trip canceled, Lake City Academy students experience history in B-25 bomber

The engines thundered, the ground beneath the "Maid in the Shade" B-25J Mitchell bomber rumbled and away she went, soaring into a clear blue sky with seven stellar students from Lake City Academy.

The World War II beauty returned to the Coeur d'Alene Airport a short time later, releasing the group of youths back onto the earth to share the excitement of their historical aviation experience.

"It was absolutely incredible," incoming eighth-grader Sadie Bowen said Friday, clad in an Army green flight suit and brilliant smile beneath her aviator sunglasses.

She said her dad and grandfather share a love of aviation history, adding to the joy of her trip.

"It was just really cool for me to see this airplane and to be able to fly in it, too," she said. "They're both really excited for me."

Her classmate Jackson Payne, also in a green flight suit, was stoked before he even went on the flight. He said he was feeling "awesome!"

"It's kind of nerve-racking to get on it, but after you take off, it's really smooth and you're not as nervous as you think you'd be," he said. "It's really awesome to fly in."

The Lake City Academy community made lemonade out of lemons by treating some of its top students to this exclusive experience with the Commemorative Air Force, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and celebrating combat aircraft flown by U.S. military services and selected aircraft of other nations for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations. "Maid in the Shade" is in Coeur d'Alene for the Flying Legends of Victory Tour through Sunday.

The "lemonade" in this scenario is this once-in-a-lifetime experience for the kids, who had the privilege of riding in a 1944 warplane that is one of only 34 B-25Js still flying. The "Maid in the Shade" was mainly used as a low altitude strafe and skip bomber and was used in America’s first large-scale bombing offensive in the Philippines, sinking eight ships and shooting down five planes. It was based out of Serragia Airbase, Corsica, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 1944.

"We were like flying in an actual artifact," Sadie said.

The "lemons" are the fact that the school's biennial seventh/eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C., was canceled after it had been postponed once. Trip organizers made the tough choice of canceling it altogether because of the pandemic and concern for the students’ safety.

"We were definitely all disappointed, although I understand why it had to happen," said Sadie, who conducted a project on the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in D.C. in preparation for the trip.

She looked back at the gigantic, gleaming metal plane with a grin.

"This definitely makes up for the loss," she said.

Sadie and Jackson were joined by classmates Cambrie Stam, Logan Henneberg, Ashley Smith and twins Ethan and Owen Hickok, all highly accomplished and celebrated students.

"I feel cool," Ethan, also in a flight suit, said before going on the flight. "I feel like I'm going on an important mission."

"I was excited to see the Air and Space Museum," Jackson said. "But then, this is way better, because instead of just seeing it we get to ride."

The students' teacher, Geoff Heald, said they all conducted research projects on D.C. before the trip to teach the rest of the class about it.

"Losing the trip to Washington, D.C., was very disappointing, even devastating. I hope that someday they will have another opportunity to go," he said. "Everybody should visit Washington, D.C., at some point. But if we have to lose out on that, this is a great real-life moment in history they get to experience, make it come to life and get excited about the story of history and the experience of it."

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Incoming Lake City Academy eighth-grader Cambrie Stam buckles up for a ride in a historical WWII bomber during a trip with her classmates to the Coeur d’Alene Airport on Friday. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

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Owen Hickok, an incoming Lake City Academy ninth-grader, climbs the ladder into the “Maid in the Shade” 1944 warplane at the Coeur d’Alene Airport on Friday. He and other high-achieving classmates went for a ride in the plane as an exclusive experience after their D.C. trip was canceled. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

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Ethan Hickok and Jackson Payne share an exchange Friday at the Coeur d’Alene Airport as they imagine being in a WWII bomber flying at crazy angles while they’re briefed before their flight. They were two of seven Lake City Academy students who went for a ride in the “Made in the Shade” B-25J Mitchell. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

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Doyle Gaines with the Commemorative Air Force, left, briefs Lake City Academy students before they go for a ride in the “Maid in the Shade” World War II bomber Friday at the Coeur d’Alene Airport.

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Incoming Lake City Academy eighth-grader Sadie Bowen gives a thumbs-up from the cockpit of the “Maid in the Shade” WWII bomber Friday during a field trip with her classmates. (Courtesy photo)