As we’ve commented before, after a war, the high tech, iconic weapons of the conflict pass through a long period in which they’re “old junk” before someone realizes that they’re rare and deserving of preservation. This is what happened to the B-29 bomber, a plane once produced in such masses that a single raid by them over Tokyo once killed more people with conventional weapons than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki did.
Many ywars afterward, private enthusiasts rescued one from a Navy gun range where the swabbies had lost track of it on its way to being blown up as a target. That turned out to be the last one. (A later attempt to rescue a B-29 in Greenland failed due to one of the plane’s in-service problems — fire). That last surviving airworthy B-29, FIFI, is likely the only one that will ever fly again; a couple of dozen other airframes exist in museums, storage, and in various states of repair. but those capable of restoration to flight will likely never leave museums, and those in the hands of would-be restorers are in sad shape, mostly.
During the last airshow flight of the season, the number two engine experienced a loss of power. The crew returned safely to the airport, but it was soon determined the engine would need major repairs. At nearly $10,000 and 100 volunteer hours per hour of flight, keeping FIFI in the air is daunting.
This iconic B-29 is a traveling piece of military history. FIFI flies to air shows and tour stops all over the country giving children of all ages the sight, smells and sounds of history. These personal experiences perpetuate the spirit in which these aircraft were flown in defense of our nation –honoring the courage, sacrifice and legacy of the greatest generation. FIFI represents that generation and the best of America.
Our goal is to raise $250,000 to repair the damaged engine and to purchase a spare engine ensuring continuous operation and flight. Please help us!
Your tax deductible donation will keep FIFI flying!
via Keep FiFi Flying A2.
The B-29 was not only a landmark weapons system in its own right, it also contained defensive systems that were milestones of technology. Instead of the manned turrets and free waist guns of the B-17, B-24 and earlier bombers, which produced massive drag while exposing gunners to the elements (-40F @ 250 kt), the -29 used a Central Fire Control system which used optical and hydraulic systems to allow fewer centrally located gunners to operate slave turrets in a shirtsleeve, pressurized, climate-controlled enviroment. Mechanical computers using adding-machine technology handled questions of parallax. This let the gunners stay inside the pressure vessel and gave the bomber more speed and altitude capability, which itself complicated Japanese interception. The Japanese pilot who struggled, alone, to the service ceiling of his plane to tangle with a formation of B-29s was either very brave or foolhardy, and everyone on both sides of the fight knew it. (Later, the defensive system would finally fall short when facing MG-15 fighter jets; in Korea, the B-29s were forced to bomb at night. But it met the initial threat for which it was designed).
Similar remote turrets were used in at least two other late-war entrants, the North American P-61 Black Widow night fighter, and the Douglas A-26 (later B-26) Invader, an ambitous project which was meant to, and ultimately did, replace the B-25 Mitchell, B-26 Marauder, and A-20 Havoc light bombers (The A/B-26 soldiered on into the 60s, serving with distinction in the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam, although by then its simplified Sperry CFC system was removed).
Ironically, the organization that operates FIFI, the Commemorative AIr Force, started almost as a joke by several Tezan pilots, was called the Confederate Air Force until the 1990s. They changed the name because deep-pocketed corporate donors’ timidity ran headlong into the poorly-educated public, most of whom learn nothing about the Confederacy except that it was racist (true) and evil (probably true, but not exactly for the reasons that are taught in schools today). The organization was never meant as a neo-Rebel or racist organization, the name was a joke, and we are officially a country that can’t take a joke these days.
In any event, when the phone doesn’t ring at the CAF these days, it’s those rich corporate donors not calling. So they’re begging for table scraps from the public. You can donate at the link if you’re so inclined; they have various chachkas they give donors of various levels, it’s just like a PBS telethon but absent the certainty of the Government stepping in to fund any shortfalls…
The CAF was vital to that critical middle period of preservation, before the public at large realized that World War II Aircraft were a vital historical resource. The lack of any equivalent organization for Cold War aircraft is part of the reason why so many of them have vanished without a trace, and so few were preserved in flying status.
Hat tip: AOPA.