B–25 : Heavenly Body
Remembering clearly my first meeting with Heavenly Body’s owner, Mike Pupich, and about six of her crew, I look back at that short encounter and think to myself, how very appropriate in deed. After a telephone conversation with Mike, followed up with a few nice e-mail images from other shots I’ve done, Mike invited me down to the hanger where they work on the aircraft. With the intention of introducing myself, and showing some 8 x10s of previous work to everybody present, the group as a whole would then decide if they wanted to work together on creating one of these images of Mike’s B-25 and themselves; and so it went…
Standing inside the hanger, in the company of the strikingly beautiful B-25 warbird occupying the lion’s share of floor space, and with about seven crew members crowded around, in a tight semi-circle, I remember thinking at the time, – “How very surreal, and beautiful.” During the course of presenting all of the shots I had created to date, and while describing the sometimes comical, sometimes difficult logistical hurdles involved in getting each shot, there was a lively exchange of ideas, stories and anecdotal observation of human nature that we all share. Almost like clockwork, while we talked and shared photos together, the group would abruptly halt (often in mid-sentence) and collectively look off towards the front of the hanger every time an aircraft engine would start up, or another plane would take off, the rumbling of piston, radial or jet engine noise filling this metal work space. I found myself swept up in their enthusiasm to see what was now going on outside. Not until the sound abated again, did we get back to our casual sort of show-and-tell I was presenting. That little experience I was fortunate enough to share with these guys was for me, a sort of extra little gift. With the clarity of hindsight, I can see that it was indeed very telling, and speaks to the character and passion those guys shared with each other, and their commitment for the greater cause of restoring and flying “Heavenly Body.”Ultimately, for this shot to come to fruition, I had to travel about a 600 mile round trip in a 24-hour period in order to gain access to this beautiful plane, and her volunteer crew.The original plan was to shoot the plane and her crew at a local airport in Los Angeles some evening, but the airport administration wanted about $800.00 from me before allowing us to do our photo shoot. The next-best alternative was to follow the plane and crew up north for the prescheduled reunion. It's strange that in spite of all the inconvenience of driving those 600 miles round trip in 24 hours to get the shot, it worked out far better than the first plan of shooting locally.
There was an annual fly-in/dinner & dance taking place at an old WWII training (now private) airfield called Eagle Field, in Central California. The advantage of having this party of 600-plus revelers was that I got to choose several vintage jeeps and even a dummy 500-pound bomb for the photo.
A short history of the plane: Since the plane was built close to end of the war, she never saw action and went directly from the production line into service as a trainer. After her stint in the Air Force she was sold as surplus and went on to live life as an air-tanker putting out forest fires. After a brief stint chasing fires, she was put out to pasture and was once again called into service for a movie being made called “Catch 22.” After production was over, the B-25 went up for sale and was purchased by the current owner, Mike Pupich in 1972.
Mike has a volunteer crew of devoted people who constantly work on the aircraft in order to keep her airworthy. They accompany her on board working events and venues around the West Coast. Three of them are pictured in the shot outside the plane; the fourth guy happened to be strolling by wearing vintage aviator attire while we were shooting that evening. After being quickly relieved of his cake and mixed drink, he was hustled up into the bombardier’s station with strict instructions to "freeze."
The dog, Emma, was a mutt I borrowed from one of the guests at the event. She was totally uncooperative during the first four tries at getting her to pose. Finally, at the end of the shooting session and after one last try at placing her on the seat, Emma just gave up and went to sleep, exhausted from all the attention and her efforts to get out of posing. She looks great just lying curled up on the passenger seat.