Valdosta Daily Times

April 1, 2014

Look, up in the sky: It’s a Superfortress

Commemorative Air Force brings B-29 to Valdosta

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Just after noon on Monday, the only flying B-29 Superfortress bomber landed at the Valdosta Airport as part of the Commemorative Air Force’s current Southeastern United States tour.

Named “Fifi” and accompanied by a C-45, the B-29 Superfortress will be at the Valdosta Airport through Wednesday, open to tours from 9 a.m. through 5 p.m., though it’s scheduled for a couple of flights on Wednesday morning; interested parties should go to www.airpowertour.org to register.

The C-45 is also available for flights during these couple of days.

Former Air Force pilot Mark Novak has been working with the Commemorative Air Force for the past few years, bringing Fifi and other planes to communities across the country.

“As opposed to having her sit in a museum and people coming to her, we’re bringing history to the people, and giving them an aviation experience,” said Novak.

It’s bringing this experience that motivates the crew of the Fifi, rather it’s someone who has never seen a B-29 or the 92-year-old former B-29 navigator that visited them earlier in the tour.

“You could just see the stories and pictures running through his head,” he said.

This happens often for veterans. They sit down in the plane where they once worked, muscle and sensory memory kick in and the stories just pour out of them.

And just like every pilot, navigator, gunner and engineer has a story, Fifi has her story as well.

Built at the end of World War II  in July 1945 and narrowly missing combat, Fifi was assigned to a training squadron. That assignment helped keep her as close as possible to how she started out, as B-29 upgrades and modifications weren’t applied to her.

She ended up being gifted to the Navy, which parked her on the edge of a bombing field in a northern California desert as a range marker.

That’s where she sat for years until the Commemorative Air Force found her, and after starting it right up and flying it out of there, CAF members spent a year and a half repairing the plane and replacing parts.

Some things have been replaced since then, like the four engines installed four years ago. But engines aside, this is best way to see what it would have felt like to fly a B-29, down to the flare gun grip and trigger built into the side of the cockpit.

They don’t build them like this anymore; one member of the six-person crew is in charge of watching the engines in flight because the pilot has no way of keeping an eye on them.

For Novak, whose flying bread and butter are jets, flying Fifi is something he enjoys even if it is a little different.

 “With jets, you move the stick and the jet moves. It takes a little bit of wrestling with (Fifi) to get her to turn, but it’s certainly not bad. It’s just the way she was designed.”