The restorers of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress that almost met its end as a target at a desert weapons-testing range celebrated a milestone March 23 when the reconstructed aircraft was rolled out of a hangar in Wichita, Kansas, for public viewing and a symbolic presentation to the Air Force.
The rollout event for Doc, a B-29B built in 1944, was timed to occur at McConnell Air Force Base precisely 70 years after the bomber’s original delivery in 1945 to the Army Air Forces in Wichita. Guests invited to attend Doc’s re-emergence included members of the board of the nonprofit restoration group Doc’s Friends, sponsors, donors, and volunteers who worked on the project.
Doc’s rescue and subsequent restoration effort date to 1987, when Tony Mazzolini, a Korean War B-29 flight engineer, and now president of the United States Aviation Museum in South Euclid, Ohio, learned of the aircraft’s existence during a search for a B-29 that could be restored.
Getting Doc this far along a path to becoming a flying museum and “a tribute to the greatest generation” has “not been an easy road.” The rollout was likely to be an emotional occasion for many, said Tom Bertels, chairman of the marketing steering committee of Doc’s Friends, and managing partner of ad agency Sullivan Higdon and Sink.
Doc was one of a squadron of eight B-29 Superfortresses named for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Mazzolini had launched what Bertels described as “a worldwide search” for a restorable B-29 when he learned that a B-29 was parked in the desert for use as a target at a Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake test range.
“He saw it, and after a whole bunch of finagling they let him have it,” Bertels said.
It took Mazzolini 11 years to become Doc’s owner in 1998, but Mazzolini is "a guy who never gives up," Bertels said.
Restoring Doc proved impractical in California, absent the necessary facilities. Jeff Turner, retired CEO of Spirit AeroSystems and now chairman of Doc’s Friends, suggested that Mazzolini ship Doc to Wichita. The aircraft arrived on trailers in 2000 when the restoration work resumed in a hangar provided by Boeing, "not far from where it was originally manufactured" at a Boeing plant in Wichita, Bertels said.
Doc’s Friends envision the next big milestone—and “a photo opp too hard to pass up”—when Doc’s four customized engines “are fired up at the same time,” Bertels said. The engines, and a spare acquired for Doc, are hybrids similar to DC-7 engines, giving the B-29 the power of the Curtiss-Wright 3350-95W engine combined with “all of the fittings and durability of the R-3350-26WD engine,” according to the Doc’s Friends website.
The engines will drive Doc’s original propellers, Bertels said.
As for timing, Doc’s Friends are “not totally in control of our own destiny” when it comes to predicting when the moment—and a first flight—will happen. Doc has not been fueled since its days parked in the desert. The all-new fuel system would have to be tested for leaks before the aircraft is fueled. Then there would be taxi tests. The FAA is also playing a role, and “has committed to come in and help us get through certification and help train pilots,” Bertels said.
When the time to fly does come, Doc will join Fifi, the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29A, as the only currently flying and touring examples of the aircraft.
Another goal for Doc’s Friends is to find a permanent home for Doc, preferably in Wichita, Bertels said.
Despite the uncertainties, an appearance by Doc at EAA AirVenture 2015 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, remains possible, said Bertels.
Meanwhile, “people are lining up” to be on Doc’s support crew, he said.