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JB Charleston helps vintage B-25 back on its ‘feet’

By Stan Gohl, historian | 437th Airlift Wing | March 22, 2019

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —

In early January, Robert Simmons, deputy director at Patriots Point Museum Services Department, contacted me to ask if I knew of any individuals or companies that could replace the tires on their B-25. My response was, “wow, I am not sure I know anyone qualified on B-25s.” I told him I would make a few phone calls and get back with him later that day. 

My first stop was the 437th Maintenance Squadron’s Aero Repair/Wheel and Tire Shop. I thought, well, they change tires on C-17s, so maybe they could help. I made contact with John Speaks and Master Sgt. Ron Williams, who both thought this was something they could do—and more importantly, wanted to do. I then contacted Col. Mark Harris, 437th Maintenance Group commander, and Norm Moore, the 437th MXG deputy commander, to see if this was something the Air Force would allow us to do. After verifying some details, they agreed that yes, members assigned to 437 MXG could support Patriots Point, but they had to do it on a volunteer basis, much the same as other members did a couple years ago when they repaired damage to the F-4 on display at the Citadel. 

The following day, Tech. Sgt. Nathon Andrews went down to Patriots Point to get a firsthand look at the aircraft and to determine what tools and equipment they would need. After Andrews’ visit, Simmons and his staff designed and fabricated a tripod jack and three custom jack stands to support the aircraft. 

About a week later, five members from the shop: Andrews, Master Sgt. Ron Williams, Dean Johnson, Staff Sgt. Mark Jacobs and Airman 1st Class Christopher Garren all took a day off work and headed down to Patriots Point. With the support of Simmons and his Patriots Point staff, the group slowly and methodically removed both main landing gear tires and the nose tire, leaving the aircraft supported by the three jack stands. They then transported the wheels and tires back to their shop on JBC, where they proceeded to remove the tires from the wheels. According to the technical data from the 1940s, the approved method consisted of using large crowbars and brute strength. Over the next couple of hours, with the brute strength of several other members of the shop, they successfully removed the three tires. 

Over the course of several days, the team took turns trying to install the replacement tires, using the reverse procedure for removing the old tires. Eventually they were able to install the small nose gear tire. However, the two main landing gear tires were getting the best of them. The obstacle stemmed from the type of tires they were trying to install, as they were a much thicker all-terrain tire used for dirt field landings versus the standard tires they removed. Finally, after countless attempts and dozens of man-hours expended, the decision was made to contact a local heavy equipment service center and have them utilize their hydraulic equipment to install the tires onto the wheels.

Now, with all three tires successfully installed on the wheels, the only thing left was to install them back onto the aircraft. A few weeks later, a new team of three Airmen—Master Sgt. Ron Williams, Tech. Sgt. Richard Atchison and Tech. Sgt. Charles Long—volunteered to go back to Patriots Point and install them. It was a task expected to take around 90 minutes; or so they thought. As work began, they ran into an issue with a valve stem on one of the main landing gear tires. To rectify the issue, without having to remove the tire and replace the tube and valve stem, they re-tapped the stem and replaced the valve core. The only other hold up came from aligning the brake rotors, both the inner and outer brake assemblies; a task that proved tedious and time consuming. However, after about three hours, the team of three C-17 mechanics and one old retired B-52 mechanic (myself), successfully installed all three wheels. 

The close proximity of JBC and Patriots Point Naval Maritime Museum is what led to this cooperation between the Air Force and the private sector. That closeness provided a unique opportunity for Airmen from the 437 Airlift Wing to not only to share their expertise, but also to have the rare opportunity to preserve a piece of Air Force history. As the 437th AW historian and Airpark custodian for over 10 years now, I have often had Airmen admit that they drive by the Airpark daily, but never stopped. Sadly, I found the same when talking with Airmen as we worked on the B-25. Many stated although having been stationed here for several years, they have never been to Patriots Point. I hope that this cooperation, and the social media coverage, will lead to a greater awareness of not only Air Force history, but also local Charleston history.