Tallmantz B-25N N9451Z (s/n 44-30493)

When Tallmantz and its B-25s camerships are mentioned, it is commonly thought that two B-25s served that role (N1203 and N1042B). But, yes, a third B-25 was used, also, after it replaced N1203. That airplane was s/n 44-30493, which was built by North American Aviation at Kansas City, and delivered on January 25, 1945. Too late for the war, the airplane was moved directly into storage, first at Laurel, Missouri, and then at Lubbock, Texas. It soon moved on to Peyote, Texas, before being activated in April 1953. It was assigned a training role and became a TB-25J.

The USAF had Hayes update hundreds of B-25s beginning in 1955, and 44-30493 went through their shops in 1955, then becoming a TB-25N with its new or updated systems. It served at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, for the balance of its service and then placed into storage at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in 1958. It was sold as surplus to National Metals of Tucson, Arizona, in January 1960 and assigned the registration of N9451Z. In August 1960, it was sold to Spring Aviation, also of Tucson. It was slated for conversion to an air tanker until four, count'em four, B-25 tankers crashed in July 1960 while fighting fires. In the fallout, the B-25 design was erroneously blamed for the crashes, actually the result of pilot error and mechanical failures caused by poor maintenance. In an event, dozens of B-25s purchased for air tanker duty were pretty much useless, and N9451Z languished at Tucson for the next eight years. In 1968, Tallmantz Aviation began quietly looking for B-25s on behalf of Paramount Studios for use in the filming of Catch-22, trying to buy up good airframes before the word got out that they were in the market. Tallmantz made a deal and purchased N9451Z in July 1968 and ferried the airplane back to Orange County.

The Tallmantz operation at Orange County was combination B-25 production line and training base in 1968. Each of the ragged B-25s scoured from around the country were put in good mechanical order, then painted to studio specifications, and externally modified with turrets and guns to once again become AAF B-25s for an unnamed Mediterranenan bomb squadron being replicated for the film. At the same time, Tallmantz was hiring and training B-25 flight crews for the filming set to commence in January 1969 at a purpose-built airstrip at Guaymas, Mexico. As the new year started, 17 B-25s departed Orange County for Mexico (an 18th B-25 was purchased in Mexico) for a six-month stint of filming. N9451Z became Dumbo for the film, the central B-25 in the bizzare story of Capt. Yossarian and all his friends.

By the summer of 1969, months longer than expected, all 17 B-25s trundled their way back to Orange County, and most were tightly parked on the Tallmantz ramp awaiting word from the studio about what to do with the airplanes. "Sell then," came the terse directions, and Tallmantz was soon the sales agent for a fleet of B-25s selling in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Even at the price, sales were slow and the ramp remained crowded into 1972. Tallman, however, took a good look at N9451Z and then at tired B-25H N1203 parked next to it. He decided to replace N1203 with the updated B-25N, and Tallmantz purchased N9451Z from the studio in August 1971.

N9451Z was pulled into the Tallmantz maintenance hangar and stripped down, overhauled, and modified as a cameraship. The Cinerama nose came off of N1203 and mounted on N9451Z. The new cameraship was repainted in a glossy white scheme to match the new one painted onto N1042B, and shortly afterwards N9451Z jointed the flight line. It embarked on numerous film and military projects in the succeeding decade, regaining its old standard B-25J nose at least once to allow higher airspeeds in test programs than allowed with the Cinerama nose. Tallman was killed in a 1978 airplane crash, and then Frank Pine passed away in 1984. Within a year, Tallmantz Aviation was sold to new owners. N9451Z was placed up for sale, brokered by Sherman Aircraft Sales, but was ultimately traded into the USAF Museum Program in 1986. Details of the trade are unknown. The airplane was delivered by a Tallmantz flight crew to Malmstrom AFB at Great Falls, Montana, the camera nose having been removed earlier. After it was repainted in AAF colors, it was mounted on pylons and placed on display at the base airpark with several other aircraft. It has remained displayed since, enduring the harsh Montana winters and suffering the exposure. It would appear that the airplane's fate is secured...that of a steadily deteriorating base display that gains a new coat of exterior paint once in a long while but corrodes to dust on the inside. It is doubtful that, in these days of smothering "security," few save a curious airman or two even gives notice to that green airplane in the field.

B-25N N9451Z on the ramp at Orange County in the pre-Catch-22 days of 1968. This airplane pretty much looks the same as it did in 1960 when it was purchased as USAF surplus for conversion to an air tanker, something that never happened. Tallmantz bought the airplane in July 1968 on behalf of Filmways, Inc., a part of Paramount Studios getting ready to film Catch-22. It was officially transferred to Filmways in September 1968. (From www.warbirdregistry.org)
The B-25N pretty much was the airplane star of Catch-22, appearing as Dumbo, the vehicle that carried Capt. Yossarian on his merry way. This is how the airplane appeared in April 1971 while stored at Tallmantz, nearly two years after the filming had been completed. (Scott Thompson)
In August 1971, Tallmantz again purchased N9451Z, this time from Filmways and this time to use it to replace the old venerable Mantz B-25H, N1203, which was getting a bit long on the tooth. It went through a complete overhaul, gained the Cinerama camera nose from N1203, and emerged from the shop in shiny new Tallmantz colors. This view shows the airplane in January 1980 on the ramp at Orange County. (Scott Thompson)
The B-25N on the Tallmantz ramp in February 1980. Hard to read from the photo, but under the cockpit is the name Marty, a nod to Frank Pine's wife who was also a vice-president of Tallmantz Aviation. Frank Tallman had been killed two years earlier, in April 1978, in a plane crash on nearby Saddleback mountain, and Frank Pine was running the company along with Tallman's widow, Ruth Tallman. Ironically, Saddleback mountain can be seen rising behind the noseglass in this photo. (Scott Thompson)
A side view of N9451Z, also in February 1980. The paint and markings matched that of the other Tallmantz cameraship, N1042B. The Seekval program noted on the nose behind the glass was a military project more correctly called the Joint Test Project Plan of Combat Air Support Target Acquisition Program. You've gotta love the DOD. (Scott Thompson)
Tallmantz Aviation was sold to new owners in 1986, and N9451Z was traded into the USAF Museum Program. It was delivered to the USAF at Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, Montana, by a Tallmantz crew that same year. A solid gun nose replaced the camera nose, whose fate remains unknown, and the airplane was painted in an anonymous AAF olive drab and grey scheme. What appears to be an old Catch-22 turret was mounted on the fuselage, and the airplane was placed on display at the base airpark. The airfield was later closed, but the base remains active, and a February 2007 low altitude flyby of the base revealed the airplane remains much as is shown in this July 1996 view. (Scott Thompson)

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Updated: March 24, 2007