WWII veteran’s harrowing mid-air escape commemorated with help of 3-D printer

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Sitting on the tail fin of a model B-25 Mitchell bomber hanging from the ceiling of the Virginia War Memorial is a 6-inch-tall figurine of 95-year-old Richmond resident Russell Scott, who was shot down in a B-25 over Italy during World War II and held as a prisoner of war.

The figurine was 3-D printed by Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Virtual Curation Laboratory, who used a handheld scanner to create a 3-D model of Scott last November while doing a 3-D scanning demonstration at the Virginia War Memorial for a public event.

"They said, 'It's a shame you can't 3-D scan Russell here.' I said, 'I can!'" said Means, an instructor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. "And, like I almost always do, I had my handheld 3-D scanner with me. So I asked Russell if he'd mind if I scanned him, and he said, 'That'd be great. Go ahead and scan me.'"

After scanning him, Means was able to use his lab's 3-D printers to create a plastic model of Scott that was scaled to the size of the model B-25 bomber.

Chelsea Miller, a VCU history major who graduated last week and served as an intern at the Virginia War Memorial, researched WWII-era uniforms and painted the model so it looks like the flight suit Scott would have worn.

This week, the Virginia War Memorial installed the figurine onto the tail fin of the B-25 replica, recalling how Scott managed to escape when his B-25 was shot down in 1944.

"Russell was the tail gunner on a B-25. When he was shot down, he kicked open the hatch, he slid out onto the tail, and had his feet hanging off before he rolled off and pulled his parachute," said Jesse Smith, curator of archives and artifacts at the Virginia War Memorial.

Russell was the tail gunner on a B-25. When he was shot down, he kicked open the hatch, he slid out onto the tail, and had his feet hanging off before he rolled off and pulled his parachute.

Means 3-D scanned Scott while seated, and the Virginia War Memorial calculated how big Scott’s figurine should be relative to the size of the model plane.

Scott, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the Air Force, was held as a POW for a year after being shot down. He now volunteers each week at the Virginia War Memorial, giving visitors tours and talking to them about his experiences. He also volunteers around Richmond at a local soup kitchen, his church and the VA hospital.

"He's an incredible guy," Smith said. "He's one of the most giving, caring guys you've ever met. It's a real pleasure to know him."

Last year, Scott acquired a large, remote-controlled model B-25 and he offered to donate it to the Virginia War Memorial.

"We thought it'd be neat if we could make it able to be hung – shore up the construction of it a little bit – and to paint it in the correct colors like it would have been in the 12th Air Force," Smith said. "After some research, we actually found a photo of the plane Russell was in before it was shot down. There was a gentleman whose father was in the same squadron and he had taken a lot of photos of the airplanes. So we found a photo, which showed us the tail number and nose art."

The Virginia War Memorial had the airplane painted to look as close to Scott's original B-25 as possible.

Scott said he is thrilled to see the miniature model of himself in the Virginia War Memorial, and happy that the replica of his B-25 bomber is on display.

"Very proud," he said. "And I think that it's going to make a big difference down there at the War Memorial. It's an airplane – a B-25 – that they didn't have down there."

Visitors to the Virginia War Memorial can see the 3-D printed model of Scott and his plane, and the museum has installed a short explanation with the display. "We have a little description to explain why we have this little man sitting up on the tail of the plane," Smith said.

He added that it was great to see Scott excited about the new installation.

"He loved the idea that we printed him out," Smith said. "It's unique to him. And it's his plane."

Feature image at top: WWII veteran and Richmond resident Russell Scott, 95, points to a 3-D printed model of his himself, which was created after VCU professor Bernard Means, Ph.D., used a 3-D scanner to scan Scott at a Virginia War Memorial event.


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