B-29 To Be Left Out In Cold

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"Doc" -- the B-29 Super-Fortress that sat in the desert of Mojave for 42 years, was used for missile target practice (but never hit) and has now nearly been rebuilt and restored from the ground up by a team of devoted volunteers -- will face new adversity when it is pushed out of its current home, unfinished and into the winter elements of Wichita, Kan., by week's end. "Boeing has been great, but they need the facility," project spokesman John Shark told AVweb Monday. The Wichita forecast calls for sleet, turning later to snow this week -- not the warmest greeting for a 60-percent restored aircraft if it is, as expected, rolled onto the open-air facility of the Kansas Aviation Museum on Friday. "This is the last B-29 in the world that can be saved and restored to flight," Shark said, which makes it living competition, in both attention and charity, with the only other (sometimes) flying B-29, Fifi. Like Fifi, Doc's primary obstacle is money, but unlike Fifi, Doc doesn't have the recent flight experience to inspire donations. What it does have is new parts, though. " We're going to have a brand-new aircraft," said project manager Cliff Gaston, "It wasn't patched or repaired; it was done new." But for the dream to survive it will need new help, and soon, and two funds are now open to the public.

The project has been moved multiple times throughout the years and needs a new facility . Project leader Tony Mazzolini is now determined to keep the aircraft at its birthplace of Wichita, perhaps as a flying cornerstone for an expanded Kansas Aviation Museum adjacent to McConnell Air Force base. Bur for now economic reality means the project will be sitting outside until funds can be arranged for shelter and then completion. "Three million dollars would put us in the air within a year," Gaston said. Major obstacles after shelter include $185,000 restoration for each of six engines and the manufacture of 26 fuel cells. A similar plea went out last year for the Commemorative Air Force's B-29 Fifi, which had been grounded on and off for airworthiness issues and engine problems. That call was met by the generosity of Texas inventor and industrialist Joe Jamieson, who donated $2 million to the cause. Mazzolini, Gaston, Shark and a crew of devoted volunteers will now hope that lightning strikes twice. Doc's supporters clearly think their project may be more sustainable than many restoration projects thanks to new parts, and even if the aircraft is left to the mercy of the elements, the group is confident that its workmanship will preserve what's already been done. But is there room in the hearts of donors for two airworthy B-29s. For a hangar, donations are being accepted at The Kansas Aviation Museum, c/o Hangar for "Doc," 3350 George Washington Blvd., Wichita, KS, 67210. For restoration, funds are being accepted at The B-29 Restoration Fund, c/o Boeing Wichita Credit Union, 2900 S Oliver St., Wichita, KS 67210.