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.
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.
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!
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!