Now there are two. At approximately 8:30 AM CDT on Sunday morning, the worldwide fleet of flyable B-29s doubled when Doc lifted off from McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas culminating a restoration project that began sixteen years ago at the factory where the airplane was built initially in 1944. Piloted by the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) Charlie Tillman and co-pilot David Oliver, Doc joined the CAF’s Fifi as the only two Superfortresses of the 3,888 produced between 1943 and 1946 which are airworthy. Doc returned to the air 60 years after its last flight in 1956 when it was ferried to China Lake in California, decommissioned and hauled into the desert where it was used as a target for Naval bomber training until 1987 when Cleveland, Ohio printing executive Tony Mazzolini discovered it, largely intact, acquired it and moved it to Wichita.
Mazzolini, members of DOC’s Friends, a non-profit group formed to raise funds to support the airplane’s restoration and dozens of the volunteers who began restoring the airplane in 1991 were joined by hundreds of onlookers early on July 17, including Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell, Kansas Fourth District Congressman Mike Pompeo, to witness the takeoff. The airplane completed high speed taxi tests on Saturday evening at around 8 PM in preparation for the first flight.
The flight itself lasted approximately 15 minutes encompassing one takeoff, climb out to pattern altitude, and a return and landing. The crew chose to land after circling the field when a precautionary “chip light”, indicating the possibility of metal pieces in one of the engines illuminated. The short duration of the flight didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd or their positive outlook.
“I never thought I’d see this day when I started working on this airplane 16 years ago,” said Connie Palacios, who at 92 years of age, remembers working on serial number 44-66992 when it came down the assembly line the first time in 1944. “I prayed for good weather and a good flight when I woke up this morning. I just don’t have words to describe how I felt when I saw it in the air. It was wonderful…but a little bit sad, too, because of the volunteers who worked on it that have passed without getting to see this.”
Wichita’s Mayor called the event “a Wright Brothers moment for Wichita, and even though the flight wasn’t as long as we had hoped, it was still longer than their first flight! It was a perfectly fitting event for the ‘Air Capital of the World’ and ‘Doc’ now serves to unify our community and to demonstrate that we can come together and our visions can take flight. Let’s continue to work hard to keep ‘Doc’ in our community. We think it’s important to our rich history and we want make sure that future generations of Wichitans have a chance to see Doc fly.”
“This is truly an achievement that our community that can be proud of for decades,” said Congressman Pompeo.
Tony Mazzolini summed up the celebration by saying, “This restoration is a special effort aimed at wanting to honor our veterans, and wanting to honor our veterans and wanting to honor those who worked on these airplane’s on the home front and I just want to say thanks to all of the people who made it possible for this event today.”