Rescuing 'The 12 planes of Christmas'

By Thom Patterson, CNN

Published 8:16 AM ET, Mon December 7, 2015
16.warbirds.PBJ Mitchell devil Dog_ Photo by Christopher A. Ebdon16.warbirds.PBJ Mitchell devil Dog_ Photo by Christopher A. Ebdon
1 of 19
They call it "The 12 Planes of Christmas" -- a fundraising campaign aimed at restoring, maintaining and flying a dozen military aircraft so important that they belong in museums. Members of the Texas-based Commemorative Air Force own and operate 165 historic warbirds across the United States. This 1944 North American PBJ Mitchell is one of the busiest B-25s in the world, appearing at 20 airshows a year. Its owners need $100,000 to properly repaint it in its Marine Corps color scheme. Click through the photos to see how the CAF hopes to preserve these amazing aircraft for future generations: Christopher A. Ebdon/Commemorative Air Force
What made the Curtiss C-46 Commando famous was "The Hump," that is, the Himalayas. From 1942 to 1945, American pilots flew cargo planes such as this one, named China Doll, over The Hump between India and China to supply U.S. troops and other friendly forces there. It performed despite the region's rough landing strips and terrible weather. A restoration team working on this aircraft in Camarillo, California, plans to repair corroded sheet metal and overhaul its propellers at a cost of $250,000. Expected completion: 2019. Bernard Delfino/Commemorative Air Force
Meet Diamond Lil, the world's oldest flying heavy bomber according to the CAF. Built in 1941, it's also the world's only airworthy "A" model B-24 Liberator. Based in Dallas, this aircraft's fuel tanks need to be resealed and the skeleton inside its wings needs to be X-rayed to check for wear. The work should be done by summer of 2016. Amazingly, more than 18,000 B-24s were built, making it the most widely produced heavy bomber of World War II and serving all branches of the military. Kevin Hong/Commemorative Air Force
This Stinson AT-19 Reliant was made in the United States for British forces who used these planes for training reconnaissance and transporting cargo. It was No. 496 out of 500 aircraft manufactured for the British under the U.S. Lend-Lease program that supplied the United Kingdom with billions of dollars in military equipment during World War II. Based in Las Vegas, restorers want to overhaul this Reliant's instruments. Completion is expected by summer 2016. Commemorative Air Force
This U.S. Navy photo shows a Stinson AT-19 Reliant in younger days. A team based in Las Vegas is hoping to complete restoration of the CAF's Reliant by summer 2016. US Navy
This Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplane has been "one of the most ambitious restoration projects in the history of the CAF," the CAF says. "Much of the internal structure on the wing's trailing edge is badly damaged," the CAF says, including several destroyed ribs. The restorers, based in Duluth, Minnesota, have painted it to match a historic PBY that took part in the 1942 Battle of Midway. Commemorative Air Force
It was a PBY similar to this that helped the U.S. win the Battle of Midway by spotting Japanese carriers. Commemorative Air Force
This Douglas C-47 Skytrain, nicknamed Old Number 30, was a Special Operations superstar. Working for the Office of Strategic Services before it became the CIA, Old Number 30 flew many World War II missions to supply covert forces and transport American aviators stuck behind enemy lines. It's believed this plane took its name from one of 36 mules and a shipment of guns it delivered to covert forces in the Balkans in 1944. Now based in Mesa, Arizona, Old Number 30 needs a $100,000 repainting and other restoration. Commemorative Air Force
After 18 years, this Douglas A-26 Invader is nearing restoration. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing donated new spar caps, important structural components for the wings. The Invader also needs a serious paint job. By spring 2017, the restoration crew based in Edmund, Oklahoma, expects to complete their long project. Commemorative Air Force
The Invader was the only American bomber to fly missions in three wars, according to Boeing, those being World War II, Korea and Vietnam. This highly modified B-26 "Counter Invader" version, which is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, is a highly modified version of the aircraft. USAF Museum/Commemorative Air Force
Cornelia Fort, the first female U.S. military pilot to die during active duty, flew a plane like this, an Interstate Cadet. During the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the civilian flight instructor was giving a lesson when they spotted one of the Japanese attack fighters. Fort was able to land safely and escape the attack. Two years later, as a U.S military pilot with the Women's Air Ferry Service, Fort died in a midair collision in Texas. This Cadet's restoration team, based in Princeton, New Jersey, needs $14,000 for a new engine. The project is expected to finish in spring of 2018. Steve Shapiro/Commemorative Air Force
U.S. Army Air Forces contracted with Interstate for 250 Cadets. Later, the military designated the production airplane as the L-6, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The CAF's Cadet restoration team, based in Princeton, New Jersey, needs $14,000 for a new engine. The project is expected to finish in spring of 2018. USAF Museum/Commemorative Air Force
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush flew a Grumman TBM Avenger like this one during World War II. During a 1944 attack on a Japanese-held island, the engine caught fire and Bush bailed out into the Pacific, where he was rescued by a U.S. submarine. Avengers saw combat in the Atlantic theater, too. U.S. Navy/Commemorative Air Force
This is the Avenger that the CAF wants to rescue. Based in Grand Junction, Colorado, it's expected to be restored sometime in 2016. Commemorative Air Force
Bell P-63 Kingcobras were nicknamed "Flying Pinball Machines" because they were used for target practice by gunners in bomber aircraft. These speedy little fighters weaved through formations of bombers while the gunners shot at them with live rounds. It wasn't as dangerous as it sounds. The Kingcobras were armor plated and the gunners used so-called frangible bullets, which broke apart on contact. US Navy
The CAF Kingcobra restoration team, based in Houston, aims to raise $30,000 to rebuild the plane's gearbox. It's expected to be completed in spring of 2016.
Luigino Caliaro/Commemorative Air Force
Restorers in Moriarty, New Mexico, hope to raise $50,000 to purchase a new engine for this Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan. It's the earliest known survivor of its type -- the 15th AT-11 out of 1,582 produced. Completion is set for fall 2018. Commemorative Air Force
Another surviving AT-11 is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The Kansan was often used to train bombardiers. USAF Museum/Commemorative Air Force
The famous Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American aviators in the U.S. armed forces, trained in Vultee BT13 Valiants. A CAF Valiant is being restored in Culpeper, Virginia, where it's been painted with number TU-70. That's the the same as a Valiant flown by Tuskegee Airman Col. Charles McGee in 1943. The CAF hopes to buy a new engine for the aircraft, which is expected to be finished in late 2016. Commemorative Air Force