June 12, 2006

Dave Fish and his group make the Ventura County Star.

Solo flight for history.

Last remaining aviation relic gets full restoration, national adoration

-- by James Grover II

At the Commemorative Air Force's repair hangar at Camarillo Airport, the clanking of tools fills the air.

All around are antique military aircraft in various stages of repair. At the far end of this hangar, there's a plane bigger than the others - a 1944 B-25/PBJ Mitchell bomber.

There are many B-25 Mitchells in museums and flying in air shows around the world, but the PBJ model, a B-25 Mitchell owned by the Navy and flown by Marines, is a whole different story.

"This is the only one that's left," said Dan Newcomb, a crew member working on the plane. He researched and found that only eight were released to civilian owners. "The rest of them are crashed, destroyed or unaccounted for," he said of the other seven.

The repair crew – about 12 men who share a passion for aviation history and mechanical things – realized how rare the plane was and scrapped their original plans to model it after an Army B-25. Instead, they decided to restore it to its original condition as a PBJ.

The History Channel is doing a documentary on its restoration and history as a part of the "Save Our History" series.

"It would've been a sin to not restore this to a PBJ; you just never see them," Newcomb said. He noted that there are some B-25s painted to look like a PBJ, but none that are original, restored PBJs.

During their research, the team came across David Fish of Camarillo, whose father, 1st Lt. Doit L. Fish, was listed as missing in action in 1949 while flying a PBJ aircraft named MB-11. In 1956, his father's remains were found aboard the plane, which had been shot down in the Philippines.

David Fish was asked to be a member of the team as the unofficial historian. He jumped at the chance.

"I didn't even know any PBJs still existed, and then to find one right in my backyard, I was very excited about it," Fish said.

The team decided to restore the aircraft after Fish's father's plane, naming it MB-11.

"I was very hesitant at first," Fish said. "In my mind, MB-11 was strewn across the jungle in the Philippines. The plane was gone, and my dad was gone with it."

The more Fish thought about it though, the more sense it made.

"I started thinking what a wonderful tribute this would be to my father and the other pilots of MBV-611 (his squadron)."

Congratulations, Dave!
With thanks for submitting the story,
in memory of 1st Lt. Doit L. Fish.