“The Great Arsenal of Democracy” B-29 Superfortresses

One of the larger attractions of the 2020 “Arsenal of Democracy” flyover were the only two flying B-29 Superfortresses, “Doc” and “FiFi”, joined in flight for just the fourth time since their restorations. On practice day Thursday, the two flew in formation over the town of Culpeper, VA along with several alternating formations of disparate World War Two (WWII) aircraft.

B-29 History

The United States Army Air Corps realized that America’s primary strategic bomber, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, was inadequate for the Pacific Theater. The Air Corps needed a bomber that could carry larger payloads and operate at 3,000 mission miles.

Between May 1941 and May 1946, a total of 3,970 Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers were produced in four different plants with the majority (2,766) being built in Wichita, KS and Renton, WA. One of the largest aircraft of WWII, the B-29 had new state-of-the-art technology, including a pressurized cabin and a “Central Fire System” employing analog computers operating four remotely controlled gun turrets- each armed with two .50 caliber machine guns.

During WWII, B-29 Superfortresses were only used in the Pacific Theater, dropping over 180,000 tons of bombs and shooting down twenty-seven enemy aircraft. Their first combat mission was flown on June 5, 1944, from India “over the hump” to China. On August 6, 1945, the B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, B-29 ”Bockscar” dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The B-29 remained in active service throughout the 1950s and in other various roles until its retirement in 1965. Today, twenty-two B-29s are on display throughout the United States.

“FiFi”

“FiFi” was the first fully restored B-29 to take flight. Built in July 1945 at Boeing’s Renton, WA plant as AF S/N 44-62070, the Superfortress went straight from the factory to a training squadron- never seeing combat. Following retirement in 1958, the bomber was used for target practise at the U.S. N. Proving Grounds at China Lake, CA. In 1971, Dallas businessman and WWII Army Air Force veteran Victor N. Agather, rescued the plane from the scrap yard. Ownership passed to the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) on March 23, 1971. After three years of restoration, the B-29 was christened “FiFi” in honor of Agather’s wife- Josephine “Fifi” Agather. Registered as NX529B, “FiFi” is maintained and operated by the B-29/B-24 Wing of the CAF at its Dallas, TX Executive Airport headquarters.

“Doc”

“Doc” is one of 1,644 B-29 Superfortresses manufactured at Boeing’s Wichita, KS plant during WWII.

In March of 1945, B-29 No. 44-69972 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps. In July of 1951, “Doc” was assigned to radar calibration duty, along with a few other B-29s. The squadron was known as the “Seven Dwarfs.” In May of 1955, “Doc” was assigned to target-towing duty. A year later, “Doc” and the rest of its squadron became targets for bomb training at China Lake. For the next 42 years, the Superfortress lay unattended in the Mojave Desert.

In 1987, Mr. Tony Mazzolini found “Doc” and began plans for removal and restoration of the B-29 to flying status. It would take twelve years before Mazzolini and his team were able to take possession from the U.S. government. Following, for the next fifteen years, the Superfortress was extensively restored by volunteers at the Wichita, KS Boeing plant where it was originally built. “Doc” returned to flying status on July 17, 2016 after a successful flight at McConnell AFB, KS. The Superfortress now resides in a brand new hanger owned by the Wichita, KS based 501c3 non-profit- “Doc’s Friends.”

Serving as honorary air boss for the 2020 “Great Arsenal of Democracy” flyby was Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher. Vaucher, now 101 years old, led a massive “show of force” formation of 525 B–29 Superfortresses that overflew the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, as Japan officially surrendered to Allied forces on September 2, 1945. The retired Lt. Col. was again on the flight deck of a Superfortress when taken on a flight over northern Virginia, in honor of his distinguished military service.

Aside from those in the air and on the battlefield, there were other WWII veterans making sacrifices on the home front. One of the most iconic symbols of America’s “Great Arsenal of Democracy” was “Rosie the Riveter.” The recognizable character, with a red bandanna on her head and bent-arm pose to show might, was created to counter the Japanese propagandist Tokyo Rose. On the ramp at Manassas, admiring the B-29s, was a real-life “Rosie the Riveter.” Ninety-five year old Connie Palacioz is one of the last surviving women who worked in the Boeing Wichita, KS plant. 1,644 B-29s were manufactured at Wichita during WWII and Ms. Palacioz riveted nose assemblies on every one of them! Following WWII service in the Pacific, B-29 “Doc” sat in the Mojave Desert for 42 years. When found, only seven rivets were missing from the nose section! A testament to the gallant work of those “Rosie the Riveters.” 

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