History returns home

Published 9:31 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

Tim Smith has been living a dream—acquiring and flying a BT-15.

And on Friday, he flew the two-seater antique into the Bainbridge airport, which is where the plane was first release for service in 1942.

“This is where it began,” Smith said of the Decatur County Airport, which used to be a training base for pilots during World War II. “I knew I was going to come here.”

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Smith of Sarasota, Fla., is not particularly a big history buff or have a relative who had a deep connection with the airplane, but he does have an enthusiastic appreciation of the warbird.

And his dream is just owning and flying one.

“I’m living a dream,” said Smith, who taxied his airplane in front of the old the World War II hangar.

Smith’s particular airplane, serial number 42-1779, was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps on Aug. 19, 1942, in Bainbridge.

The U.S. government paid $18,082 for it 67 years ago.

Pilots training in the BT-15s, as well as the more numerous BT-13s, were eventually flying missions in P-51 Mustangs fighter airplanes and the bombers such as the B-17s or B-29s. But the BT-15, which BT stands for Basic Trainer, was the beginning where many of the Allied pilots learned their basic flying skills, and the beginning for many pilots was here in Bainbridge.

The BT-15 was built by Vultee, just like the BT-13s were. But due to a shortage of Pratt & Whitney R-985 engines, Vultee equipped the BT-13 airframes with the 450-horsepower Wright R-975-11 whirlwind radial engine. There were 1,693 BT-15s built.

On June 22, 1946, records show this particular airplane was sold for $200 to an outfit in Blytheville, Ark.

Between then and 1966, there were eight different owners. From 1966 to when Smith purchased it in July 13, 2009, Carl and Dennis Bowman of Harlingen, Texas, owned it.

The airplane’s cockpit is in its original condition, with all its chips and scraps. It’s never been “restored,” so to speak, Smith said.

Smith said he’s interested in those stories out there of World War II pilot who perhaps trained in a BT-15, and perhaps even remember training in that particular aircraft. If you are interested in contacting Smith, his e-mail is eoselon@comcast.net, and his phone number is (941) 924-7662.