I recently got the opportunity to fly the Commemorative Air Force’s Boeing B-29 Fifi from Lakeland, FL to Tallahassee!  It was my third flight in a B-29 and my second flight in Fifi.  I had the opportunity to fly Fifi the first time when I was bringing my B-25 Mitchell Bomber home from California and stopped at the CAF show in Midland.  I’m a life-time member of the CAF and applaud them for what they do keeping their airplanes flying for the public and keeping the history alive.

On the ramp after Sun 'n Fun preparing to head north!

My first flight in a B-29 was in mine back in 1984 when we tried to move it inland from Oakland, CA and the salt air to Stockton, CA.  We were on a ferry permit but had a few problems about ten minutes after take-off and had to turn back.  In the end, it had some corrosion in the wing and I decided to disassemble it.  I later traded the US Air Force out of two spare airframes they had sitting at the China Lake NAS so we now have plenty of spares to help in the restoration.

Flying right seat in Fifi!

I’ll never forget taxiing out to the runway at Oakland on three engines because we were having trouble getting #3 started.  We thought we may have over-primed it so decided to taxi out and try to start it when we got out to the run-up area.  This time period was right after they had de-regulated the airlines and, as we cranked away trying to start the last engine, a large 747 airliner bound for Hawaii came taxiing by.  With smoke billowing from #3 as we cranked, a transmission came over the radio from the 747 querying Oakland ground control.  I could imagine the pilot peering down from his lofty perch with glasses down on his nose as he questioned, “Is this one of those new airlines that started up since the de-regulation?”  I cracked up, as even I thought it was funny!

My view from the co-pilot seat!

A few years ago I loaned the CAF one of our QEC’s (quick engine change).  They were doing a complete engine conversion to later engines and I think this was a nice way to repay me.  The new engines are really working well for them and I’m sure we’ll do the same when the time comes to restore ours, which unfortunately won’t be anytime soon.

On the flight to Tallahassee, I got to do the take-off and the landing and pretty much did all the flying.  Of course, we made a fly-by at Fantasy of Flight shortly after take-off.  The best way I can describe the experience is that it’s like flying the Empire State Building!

Kermit

While on a recent California business trip this September, I got the chance to check up on a couple of airplane projects as well as acquire another great addition to the collection.

Over the years, I’ve had several projects worked on by Carl Scholl and Tony Ritzman’s Aero Trader facility at the Chino Airport.  They were responsible building up my North American B-25, the Apache Princess, which received Grand Champion Warbird at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-In and Reserve Grand Champion Warbird at the EAA Oshkosh Fly-In.  After Hurricane Andrew devastated the Weeks Air Museum in Miami in 1992, I sent my Douglas A-26C attack bomber out to them to rebuild.

A-26 under restoration

When I purchased the airplane back in the mid-1980′s, it was very original and probably the most authentic A-26 in the world.  While flying it back from California, I happened to stop at an airshow in Texas and while showing someone the airplane, flipped on a couple of switches in the back and found that the rear gunner turrets still operated!  I was impressed.

Rear gunner position for the upper and lower remote turrets

My airplane had the distinction of having flown in both WWII as well as Korea and sported the colors of Whistler’s Mother for many years.  Other A-26′s went on to be used during the Vietnam war, giving them the distinction of being the only American combat airplane to have participated in three wars.  Seeing the opportunity to take what was already the most original A-26 in the world to an even higher level of detail, I told them to disassemble and go through the entire airplane.

Bomb Bay detail

While the airplane appears to have been originally built with the glass bomber nose, which the “C” model designation signifies, it also came with four gun packs under the wings, housing a total of eight .50 caliber machine guns.  I’m not sure whether or not it was originally built this way in WWII or modified for Korea but we intend to continue researching this as well as its original colors.  Combined with the four .50 guns in the upper and lower turrets, it was not an airplane to mess with.

Three of the four guns mounted per side that are housed in streamlined pods

Three of the four guns mounted under one wing, which are contained in streamlined pods

I also got a chance to check up on a project we’re about to start on for a Rosie the Riveter display we’ve been designing for Fantasy of Flight.  It’s one of the new attraction elements were striving to create that immerse people in history around a theme common to the human experience and in a way they self-discover something about themselves for themselves.  It will involve a factory assembly line for B-29′s and that’s were Aero Trader comes in.

B-29 nose for a new Rosie the Riveter Display!

I purchased a B-29 nose years ago and we intend to clean it up, as if it was being built on an assembly line.  I don’t want to give away too many details of our plans but keep an eye on our progress!

I also had the chance to check out a rather historic helicopter: a Sikorsky S-55, which had flown with the world’s first Helicopter Airline out of New York City to La Guardia Airport and other local destinations.  The owner and I had talked over the years and he recently called to tell me he decided to sell it.

With my new (well, OK, old) Sikorsky S-55!

Having decided to include early helicopters in the collection, I couldn’t resist checking it out.  It had flown as recently as the late nineties but had a light blade strike, which will require going through everything to be safe.  While it will be a long-term project, I couldn’t resist acquiring this great piece of history!

Due to space considerations, I will leave it in California until we get our new storage facility completed.  Look for it to arrive at Fantasy of Flight sometime in the early Spring of 2012!

Kermit