CAF AirPower History Tour 2015 The Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour featuring the World War Two era Boeing B-29 Superfortress Fifi bomber, North American P-51D Mustang Man O’ War fighter, Beech C-45 Expeditor Bucket of Bolts light transport, Fairchild PT-19 trainer and North American T-6 Texan / Navy SNJ trainers were hosted at the Van Nuys Airport, California from March 18th to March 22nd, 2015 conducting joy flights and tours of the CAF aircraft. I headed out there to take a look at the weekend.
The marine layer kept the aircraft grounded for most of the morning but by early afternoon Fifi was cleared for flight, the engines were fired up and she took to the skies in fine form (much to the relief of those who had paid for the flight!). It is something special to hear those 4 big Wright radial engines fire up.
Afterwards I headed to the edge of the airport and waited for Fifi to return from the joy flight. This provided a great opportunity for some clear shots of the bomber coming in for her landing approach at Van Nuys Airport.
The crew were naturally precision perfect and I got to experience a great close up low-level flyby. History before you!
The Restoration Of Fifi We are lucky to be able to see Fifi even take to the skies. This B-29 ( serial number 44-62070, civil registration number N529B) was constructed in 1944 and delivered to the USAAF in Kansas in 1945. It was converted to a TB-29 bomber trainer before being placed in desert storage for few years and then reactivated in 1953. Retired in 1958 she was sent to the US Navy bombing range at China Lake, California for target practice! Somehow she survived intact enough for the CAF to recover her from the range in 1971 (following a lot of red tape) and restore her to flying condition using parts salvaged from other B-29’s on the range. She was only approved for a single flight to return to the CAF base in Texas. Once home, the big bomber was officially grounded and a further 3 years were taken to fully restore the aircraft and gain official airworthy status. In 1974 the name Fifi was given and she toured the nation, flying the airshow circuit for decades. Then in 2006 she was grounded once again due to the urgent need to replace all 4 of the aged and worn out original Wright R-3350-23 engines.
Following a 4 year, $3M restoration, new build custom hybrid engines were installed using a combination of Wright R-3350-95W and Wright R-3350-26WD engines; and Fifi was returned to flight in 2010. It is great to be able to see up close such a significant piece of aviation history fly over 70 years after it first took to the sky. Fifi looks good doing it too!
Doc The Other B-29 At the time of this event Fifi was the worlds only flying B-29 but later in 2015 she will be joined by Doc, another B-29 built in 1944 that is being restored for flight in Wichita, Kansas. Doc was publicly unveiled on March 23rd, 2015, which was exactly 70 years to the day that the B-29 was delivered to the USAAF from the Boeing Wichita II plant in 1945. The name of this one stems from World War Two when it flew with 7 other squadron aircraft named after characters from the 1937 Disney movie Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs.
Doc was recovered from the US Navy bombing range at China Lake, California in 1987 (it had sat there for 42 years after being used for target practice just like Fifi) but the project really did not kick off until 2000 when it was transported to Wichita (there was a break for 3 years but in 2013 Doc’s Friends was formed to continue the restoration work). Since then over 300,000 hours of restoration work has been completed by volunteers to return Doc to the air. Similar hybrid engines to Fifi have been installed and most of the parts used within the bomber are new reproductions of the originals.
Congratulations to the Commemorative Air Force and Doc’s Friends for keeping the memories of that period alive. Fingers crossed the first flight goes well and we get to see Doc at an airshow sometime soon in 2015.