Aero Trader History

A broken-down B-25 bomber, purchased on a whim twenty five years ago, has transformed the efforts of two men into a thriving company known the world over for award-winning, high-quality aircraft restorations. Carl Scholl and Tony Ritzman operate Aero Trader from their facility in Chino, California. The name Aero Trader has become synonymous with B-25 restorations, largely due to the company's capability to draw from its unmatched Mitchell parts inventory and its ability to manufacture, to original specifications, any B-25 part that is not otherwise available. A general survey of the B-25's flying in the United States today could hardly find one that hasn't enjoyed the touch of Scholl and Ritzman, or at least some parts from their Aero Trader cache.

Back in 1976, Scholl was part of the off-road vehicle racing industry through his transmission shop in Reseda, California. By chance, he heard of a derelict B-25 aircraft parked at the airport in Ramona, California. A long term interest in WWII aircraft piqued his curiosity, and so he traveled to Ramona to investigate the rumor. A one-time electronics test bed, the neglected bomber was indeed real and carried the civil registration of N3155G. Curious, he crawled through the Mitchell and then wandered into the field's FBO to ask about the airplane. Scholl learned that the owner of the FBO had acquired title to the derelict to satisfy long-delinquent tie-down fees. After a minimal amount of discussion, Scholl came out $1,000 poorer but now the proud owner of a vintage WWII bomber. Shortly thereafter, a pilot friend agreed to look the plane over for Carl to see what he had bought. After examination of the Mitchell, Carl was informed that the airplane was, structurally, in good condition and could be made airworthy.

At this same time, Carl met Joe Davis who had also purchased a derelict B-25 at a small airfield near Omaha, Nebraska. Both Davis and Scholl began looking for B-25 parts, and Scholl discovered the surplus airplane parts business owned by Jack Hardwick in nearby El Monte, California. Hardwick was in the process of disposing of his vast inventory via the scrapper. Scholl and Hardwick sat down in the office and discussed buying all the B-25 parts. Thus, Scholl and Davis went in together to purchase Hardwick's entire B-25 inventory.

Scholl and Davis formed a corporation called the Historic Aircraft Preservation Group, and B-25 parts began appearing in Scholl's transmission shop. One day, another friend, Tony Ritzman, happened by while Scholl was working on a rudder assembly. Ritzman promptly bought into the B-25 and became a partner.

Scholl, Davis, and Ritzman were now slowly drawn into the aviation world of "Warbirds". Scholl and Davis coined the name Aero Trader, for the exchange and sales of warbird parts, using the Hardwick inventory as a starting point and the name stuck for the new company. Meanwhile, Scholl hired a mechanic to work on his Ramona B-25. In early 1977, the B-25 was ferried to Chino, California.

Seizing another opportunity, Scholl and Ritzman bought B-25J, N7674, from long-time warbird parts supplier Bob Sturges in early 1978. N7674 was an ex-RCAF Mitchell then parked at the Troutdale, Oregon airport. Scholl drove a replacement engine to Troutdale and got the bomber ferried back to Chino.

Having parts spread out across several backyards and numerous storage lots in suburban Los Angeles began to present a problem. Scholl located some land in the desert near Borrego Springs, California and it was purchased for a new home base. All the parts were moved by truck and N3155G was flown into a 3,200 foot long dirt strip carved out of the desert property. Carl's attention had gradually turned away from his transmission business. Tony Ritzman also left his job in the auto racing industry and the two men concentrated full time on the task of restoring aircraft. N7674 was sold shortly thereafter, providing needed capital. More extensive restorative work continued on N3155G, which was eventually sold to Don Davis in Casper, Wyoming. Aero Trader began to attract other B-25s from around the area for mechanical work or storage. N9856C, owned by Ted Itano, came under caretaker status at Aero Trader in 1981 and eventually an arrangement was worked out for operating privileges. By 1982, Scholl and Ritzman were both type-rated in the B-25 and moved to the pilot's seats full time.

A long succession of B-25s began to enjoy the attention of Aero Trader at Borrego Springs. In 1983, the company bought N3438G, a neglected Mitchell located at Turlock, California, and ferried it to Borrego Springs for rebuild. It was sold the following year to Wily Sanders in Troy, Alabama. Additionally, Aero Trader purchased a number of derelict or near-derelict airframes over the next several years. Two B-25s came from the H.R. Coffield estate sale in Rockdale, Texas and were trucked to Borrego Springs, as was N3680G, which was recovered from Vega, Texas. Two other airframes recovered include the only known B-25B fuselage in existence (40-2347, never civil-registered) and a B-25C (42-32354, also never civil registered). 40-2347 had been used as a movie prop before being rescued by Ed Maloney in the mid-1960s. The B-25C also had been used as a movie prop, showing up in a Twilight Zone TV episode as King Nine. Also added were a pair of B-25 airframes, N943 and N9936Z, (owned in partnership with Hal Kading) saved from destruction in Fairbanks, Alaska. Other incomplete airframes were acquired as well from around the country. Aero Trader also purchased several substantial parts inventories, including portions of the Tallmantz Museum, Pioneer Aero, Chesapeake Airways, John Marshall and Harry Doan collections to add to what they obtained from Hardwick. By 1984, Aero Trader had amassed an enviable assemblage of B-25s and parts from which they could fuel their business.

In 1985, the partners decided to move their day-to-day operations back to Chino to become more customer accessible. A hanger, offices, and small storage area were obtained. Much of the collection of parts and airframes remained at Borrego Springs, but ongoing restoration projects were moved to the new facility at an airport with a paved runway and a large existing Warbird population. In 1986, Scholl and Ritzman bought out Joe Davis, who went on to develop the Eagle Field complex at Dos Palos, California.

Through the years since the early 1980s, Aero Trader has anchored much of the B-25 work in the warbird world. Aside from their restoration efforts, Scholl and Ritzman have had their hands in a number of notable projects involving B-25s. In 1984, Carl joined a flight crew that flew N3156G from Oakland to Tahiti to film a Circle-Vision project for the Disney Studios. In 1985, Tony joined John Crocker in flying Steven Grey's B-25D, N88972, across the Atlantic for delivery to The Fighter Collection at Duxford, England. In 1989, Tony was one of the pilots who flew the ex-Tallmantz B-25 camera ship (N1042B) for the filming of Memphis Belle in England. Both Scholl and Ritzman have flown B-25s on a number of film projects requiring the versatility of the B-25 as a camera platform. Air-to-air photography is one of the many services available from Aero Trader. Carl and Tony are well versed in the formation flying necessary to get the shots of "Corporate Iron" seen on the covers and pages of aviation magazines and advertisements. In addition, airshow appearances and demonstrations, parachute drop-testing, orientation flights and corporate PR programs are also available.

Perhaps the most exciting projects have been their involvement in US Navy aircraft carrier launches commemorating the historic Doolittle Tokyo Raid. The Pacific Princess lead the overhead formation for the USS Ranger launch in 1992 and flew off the deck of the USS Carl Vinson twice in 1995. In 2000, Tony and Carl added the USS Lexington and the USS Constellation to their logbook entries of Navy flattops for the movie Pearl Harbor.

But Aero Trader's specialty remains the reconstruction of tired B-25s (and other warbirds) into pristine examples of the types. The company continues to maintain the largest inventory of B-25 airframes and parts in the world, which also serve as the basis for future projects. The primary market for Aero Trader's work is directed towards the B-25 owners who bring their aircraft in for restorative or mechanical work specifically suited to the state of the aircraft and the budget of the owner and the company also has expertise in other piston and jet-powered Warbirds. Today, Aero Trader continues to provide quality restoration and maintenance services to a large Warbird ownership population. "Gone are the days of recently surplused ex-military aircraft with relatively low-time powerplants and components " says Scholl. "These aircraft are approaching 60 years since construction and require a higher level of inspection and repair to remain airworthy. The knowledge and experience to keep these historic aircraft flying is starting to concentrate at the specialty shops that do this type of work everyday and are familiar with the aircraft." Carl also notes, "The trend today, in restorations, is towards authenticity and originality. Some parts, such as armament, turrets, radios and armor plate have long since been removed and scrapped in civilian use. Many of these items are hard to find or have to be manufactured from scratch. This obviously adds to the cost of a restoration. There are owners willing to pay the premium price for a well turned out B-25, or other warbird, with overhauled-to-new systems and an authentically restored interior and exterior." The current value of an unlicensed B-25 in ferriable condition hovers around $200,000. That price escalates quickly depending on the condition and historic value (combat history) of the aircraft.

The future remains positive for Aero Trader and its two owners. Starting with a hobby that turned into a business, the past 25 years have been living proof that success comes in many forms. With Carl handling customer relations and parts sales and Tony concentrating on the shop side of the business, Aero Trader operates out of two ten thousand square foot hangars located at Chino Airport, 50 miles East of Los Angeles, CA. With a workforce of over 20 employees and several restoration projects in process, Aero Trader ranks as one of the largest Warbird restoration facilities in the world and one of the few that can accomplish work on larger aircraft.