Tallmantz B-25H N1203 (s/n 43-4643)


Paul Mantz was well established as a movie pilot in the 1930s. He had learned to mount cameras on a variety of aircraft, holding his Boeing P-12 and a Lockheed Orion as favorites. After his World War II service, the astute businessman saw an opportunity and, with some partners, became the first to purchase a field of war-weary surplus warplanes from the Reconstruction Finance Corp. In February 1946, he paid $55,000 for a field of 475 airplanes (yep, that's $115.79 per airplane) at Searcy Field, Stillwater, Oklahoma. Most of the airplanes were eventually dismantled, loaded onto freight cars, and shipped off to St. Louis for smelting. First, though Mantz culled out all the aviation gasoline and the usable spare parts he wanted, plus nine low-time airplanes that he planned to make available to postwar filmmakers, two P-51Cs he wanted as racers, and one B-25 to be outfitted as his special cameraship.

The B-25H Mantz selected was s/n 43-4643, built by North American at Inglewood, California, and delivered in March 1944. It was assigned to domestic units during the war, becoming a TB-25H trainer. It was declared surplus in October 1945 and sent off to Stillwater for disposal. Mantz registered the airplane on May 28, 1946 and flown to Grand Central Air Terminal at Glendale, California. It was put to work quickly by Mantz, reportedly being used in the summer of 1946 to film shots that appeared in Best Years of Our Lives. It was modified to accept camera mounts in the tail, waist, and nose, though the early nose shots were evidently through the removed emergency exit hatch located there. With the coming of Cinerama, which requred a wide-screen view for the bulky three-camera assembly, Mantz modified the B-25J nose he had mounted to accept a special nose glass piece that offered a panoramic distortion-free view. The first Cinerama film, This is Cinerama, was released in 1952, had Mantz flying his B-25 at low level on a U.S. tour. Over the next decade Mantz became the Cinerama pilot and continued work on the subsequent six productions, including the last one, How The West Was Won in 1962. By then, Mantz had long perfected his camera nose and it perfectly suited the camerawork required for the Cinerama filming. The final configuration of the camera nose was fabricated by Long Beach Airmotive and installed in April 1954.

Though custom-designed for Cinerama, the camera nose and all the camera positions proved ideal for a variety of motion pictures filmed in the 1950s, including Fate is the Hunter, Wings of Eagles and Around the World in 80 Days. And when Walt Disney decided to film a feature using a nine-camera 360 degree process, initially dubbed Circarama (later Circle Vision), in 1957, Mantz and his B-25 were called upon to carry the heavy camera and, through a complex mount, suspend it from beneath the bomb bay of the bomber during aerial filming. The result was America the Beautiful that debuted in 1958 at the Brussels World's Fair. It later became a staple at Disneyland and other Disney worlds, and was reshot for 1967. Tallmantz would complete several other Disney Circle Vision projects between 1962 and 1975.

Mantz and N1203 were utilized to film numerous other features in the 1950s, and they carried on when the operation was merged into Tallmantz in November 1961. Some of the 1960s features that are knows to have utilized N1203 are Gathering of Eagles, Mad Mad World, Von Ryan's Express, Flight of the Phoenix, 1000 Plane Raid, Catch-22, and Lost Horizon. Mantz was killed in the 1965 production of Flight of the Phoenix but his prized camera ship continued with Tallmantz and, in fact, was used to carry Mantz's remains back from Yuma after the July 1965 accident that took his life.

After the film work for Catch-22 was completed, N1203 returned to its Orange County base. In the succeeding years it continued with Tallmantz but Frank Tallman made a decision that placed operational considerations above sentimentality. The old Mantz B-25H had not enjoyed any significant system upgrades since the 1940s and Mantz, in an effort to quiet the interior of the B-25 for his filmmaker companions, had covered the inside walls with thick sound insulation. All that made N1203 a mechanic's nightmare. Tallman probably sat in his office next to the flight line and looked at tired N1203 and the row of Hayes updated B-25Ns parked nearby, all for sale for dirt cheap prices by the studio that made Catch-22. Tallman decided to retire N1203 in favor of a B-25N, N9451Z, a Catch-22 veteran. The camera nose was removed from N1203 and, for the first time in a quarter century, a standard B-25J nose was mounted.

N1203 was then sold, in July 1975 to Howard Stucky and Lawrence Leang of Moundridge, Kansas. It was then sold, in March 1976, to Leroy Sansom of Burbank, California. It was quickly sold, the same month, to Vicki Meller, also of Burbank, who also owned B-25N N9462Z during the same period. Reportedly, it was then sold in July 1976 to on John Goodson of New York State, though this bill of sale was not recorded with the FAA. It was last reported seen at the Van Nuys airport, still in the Tallmantz paint scheme, but carrying the name Talisman Aviation on the nose. It was being watched for drug runs being conducted south of the border, Tallmantz Aviation at one point being contacted by drug agents about their old airplane. It crashed on September 4, 1976, near Santa Marta, Colombia, a town located on the northern coast of the country. Coincidently but probably not, Santa Marta was the center of the Colombian marijuana industy. Circumstances and exact location of the crash are not known, though it resulted in the the fatality of at least one on board the airplane. The disposition of whatever wreckage remained after the accident is also unknown. It was a sad end to a unique and historic B-25.

Paul Mantz obtained B-25H 43-4363 from an RFC storage lot located at Stillwater, Oklahoma, along with 474 other surplus aircraft. He save eleven, including this B-25, and had the rest scrapped. Three received civil registratins in a block: NX1202, NX1203, and NX1204. The first and last were assigned to his P-51C racers while the B-25H took on NX1203. This view shows the airplane at Phoenix in the late 1940s. The nose markings say Weath-Air Inc., president Paul Mantz.The last vestiges of its AAF markings remain visible. (William T. Larkins)
Mantz fitted the airplane out as the ideal camera platform with camera mounts in the tail, nose, and waist positions. When the three-camera Cinerama process was perfected, Mantz's B-25 was further modified to provide a nose mount for the bulky cameras. The first production, This is Cinerama, was partially filmed from the B-25 in 1952. This view shows the airplane in 1954 at Orange County Airport. The camera nose at this point is a clearly modified standard B-25J nose. The camera glass is protected by rolling metal doors, an early effort to protect the camera view from bug splatters prior to filming, although in this view it appears a single camera port is being used in the nose. (Dusty Carter)
A video capture from the 1954 film Them! showing N1203 being taxied into the scene, probably by Paul Mantz. The B-25H was made up as a USAF B-25 complete with inignia and other markings for the short scene. It is one of the few times that the famous movie airplane actually appeared in front of the cameras. (Craig)
By the early 1960s the camera nose had evolved from a standard B-25J nose to a purpose-built structure. The additional windows in the nose were thought to be useful for visibility purposes but instead caused undesired lighting and reflections for the cameras. They would be painted over. The camera nose required a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) to be processed by the FAA after engineering data was provided by Tallmantz Aviation. Note the predominent red trim and overall white scheme. (AAHS)
A classic view of a classic Tallmantz B-25, this is N1203 as best remembered in the mid-1960s wearing a standardized Tallmantz scheme. The nose windows, save the wrap-around glass, are either metaled or painted over. The large maps adorning both sides of the nose document the aircraft's world-ranging film missions. (AAHS)
Mantz added the nose maps during the Cinerama missions, with national flags bordering the map. Route tracings were added to show where the airplane had flown. Mantz dubbed this B-25 The Smasher, purportedly because someone had once painted the name Bug Smasher on one of the nacelles, a reference to the continued problems with bugs on the nose glass during low-level filming. Another version, seemingly less plausible, of the story had Mantz call his favorite cocktail a "smash" and somehow the name got transferred to the B-25. (AAHS)
Other details were added to the nose markings as various projects were completed. This 1966 military project was led by pilot Jim Appleby and evidently involved a study of aircraft detection from exhaust emissions. The ex-USAF pilot Appleby was long involved with Tallmantz beginning in the early 1960s flying a Waco biplane for the Movieland of the Air Museum up through key roles in 1000 Plane Raid and Catch-22. He later ran a successful antique airplane restoraton/construction business at Riverside's Flabob airport. The Porkie II nose art awaits further explanation. (AAHS)
On location at Guaymas, Mexico, during the filming of Catch-22 in early 1969, this view shows the all-important tail gun camera postion with the camera installed. A cameraman working from this position tragically fell to his death during the filming. Note the modified civil registration serving as a military serial number, and how quickly the aircraft gained that "aged" look, possibly due to the water based paint applied to the two Tallmantz camera ships used.
This view shows N1203 after the filming was completed, back at Orange County in 1970. The paint scheme is now simple and professional. Within a few years, the burdens of maintaining the B-25H with its original 1944 systems saw N1203 sold in favor of an updated Hayes B-25N available from the Catch-22 air force. N1203 was sold in July 1975. The airplane went through several owners in the next few years but its eventual fate has yet to be firmly established. Its most likely fate was a crash in Colombia during an abortive drug run. A sad end to an historic airplane. (Dave Welch)
Great shot by John Voss showing the B-25H at Orange County in late 1958. Note the markings on the nose that say, in part: "Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, Inc., 20th Century Fox Special" and also "the Smasher" painted on the #1 cowling. Great photo.
Detail shot of the right hand map on the side of N1203 in 1957. The boxes have information about two 1956-57 Mantz projects, the Seven Wonders of the World filming and the filming for The Spirit of St. Louis. The airplane was well known and well traveled.

Here are details of the map, courtesy of JD Davis.

The right side map in 1957, showing more details of the filming for The Spirit of St. Louis. (JD Davis)
The Mantz B-25H in 1961, shortly before he merged his operation with Frank Tallman. The camera nose for N1203 evolved from the original greenhouse nose but there isn't much left to suggest that. The optically clear nose glass was the primary feature. The other nose windows were later painted over because reflections caused lighting issues during the filming. The airplane is basically white with orange/red trim at this point. (JD Davis)
The right side map as it appeared in 1961 was slightly changed. The information contained inside the border of the map area was deleted and moved aft of the flags surrounding the map. The information added forward of the map was a 1956 Mantz project.

Here are details of the flags surrounding the map, courtesy of JD Davis.

And here are details of the details of the Deluxe Tour, also courtesy of JD Davis.

Jumping forward seven years, here is the airplane in 1968, prior to the January 1969 departure for filming of Catch-22 in Mexico. As can be seen, the extra nose windows are painted over, and now the cowlings and nacelle are blue. The rudders remain red. The red fuselage cheat line visible in the 1961 photo is gone. Note also that Frank Tallman's name has been added aft of Paul Mantz's. Mantz was killed in July 1965 but his name remains marked on his B-25H. (JD Davis)
This is N1203 apparently in the middle of a repaint in July 1969 after returning from Mexico. The airplane was supposedly painted in water soluble AAF colors for the filming, but it probably need new paint anyway after coming back. It is apparent the map marking on the nose has been masked off in this photo, so it is presumed the original Mantz markings applied in the 1950s and 1960s were retained through the repainting. (JD Davis)


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Updated: October 22, 2014