As restoration work continues on a World War II-era B-25C Mitchell bomber that was pulled out of Lake Greenwood in the 1980s, one of its most visible features is coming courtesy of 17-year-old KhaiJerria Scott.
The Orangeburg native who graduated last month from the state Department of Juvenile Justice’s program with a high school diploma meticulously crafted 16 wooden, bomb-like attachments for the craft, based on specifications provided by the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation, which is overseeing the project.
“I was so eager to learn, and it took a lot of patience,” Scott said. “The first bomb was kind of hard and I had to follow a lot of instructions but the hardest part was getting them all the same size. It was a little challenging.”
Extracted from the lake in August 1983, the plane is housed at hangar Y-1 at the Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport in Columbia, where the foundation continues its quest to bring the aircraft back to its closest state as possible.
To do so, accouterments and detailed exterior elements are needed. The pieces Scott worked on look like small bombs, but in reality would have been flare lights that aided in navigation.
Dropped onto a body of water, they’d release smoke that could help pilots determine wind drift.
Scott’s involvement with the South Carolina Aviation Foundation was highlighted in an August newsletter issued by the state’s juvenile justice department.
Andy Broughton, associate deputy director of institutional programming for the state agency, said Scott is an example of the hardworking nature that many adolescents display once they get involved with the department.
“Just watching them change their behavior is the biggest thing. That’s our goal, is to watch kids like KhaiJerria, who wasn’t a leader, wasn’t somebody to look up to, become that. He has learned how to express himself and he doesn’t have to do it the way he used to,” Broughton said. “There’s teenagers here that made some bad choices in life, but they’re learning from it and becoming men, women and artists here.”
KhaiJerria admitted that when he entered the state system at 15, he had no plans to better himself or turn his life around.
The idea of carpentry didn’t appeal to him. But then he tried it and realized not only did he enjoy it, but he was good at it — and that was a catalyst for him to rehabilitate.
“When I first came into the system, I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t even want to get my GED. My attitude was that I didn’t care about anything, but I had to open my mind,” Scott said. “I wasn’t mature when I first got here, but I’m mature now.”
Making flares for the plane wasn’t Scott’s only military-related carpentry project. He also helped make 30 handcrafted pens carved from purpleheart wood that were sent to members of the armed forces stationed in Saudi Arabia.
Ron Skipper, the aviation foundation’s restoration manager, told DJJ that Scott’s involvement with the B-25 was inspiring.
“To walk into the carpentry class and to see Scott’s face light up with enthusiasm gave me goosebumps,” Skipper was quoted as saying in DJJ’s newsletter. “The day he is able to visit the museum to see his work on display is going to be somewhat of a homecoming. It will be a very emotional moment to put him inside the plane and say, ‘here is what you did.’”
Scott also knows one other very important person is proud of what he’s accomplished as well.
“I’m moving with my mom in Columbia, so it’s a different environment for me,” Scott said. “When I first got in (to DJJ), she was crying. But now her tears are joyful because I’m doing something now to better myself.”