OSHKOSH, Wisconsin—The world’s second flying B-29 Superfortress completed a 17-year journey with its arrival at EAA AirVenture here on July 22.                                                                       

I was privileged to join the adventure of flying the newly-restored bomber known as “Doc,” first to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a special event, and then to Oshkosh where it will join Fifi, the world’s other flying B-29, in the first formation of these aircraft in the past 50 years.  

The B-29 Superfortress, the first pressurized and long-range bomber, is more complicated to fly than one would expect.

On the flight to Oshkosh, flight engineer Ken Newell starts up the four Wright 3350, 2200-hp engines—engine 3, then 4, 2 and 1, like an old car, with the right mixture of fuel and power to nurse them rumbling to life. It’s the flight engineer’s job to monitor the engines and sync the propellers. 

With no nose-wheel steering, Pilot Mark Novak uses a combination of brakes and throttle for taxi in a dance down the taxiway and onto the runway. Once rolling, the rudders become effective at about 50 or 60 mph.

“Flying the B-29 is an amazing thing,” said Novak, who has spent a lifetime flying military aircraft and who flies Fifi. “I cherish every moment I can do it. The B-29 has a step. When you’re below about 170 mph, it’s sort of like a big pickup truck—almost like flying a dump truck. Once you get above 170 mph, it flies very responsive.”

The aircraft is not good in crosswinds. Anything over a 15-kt. direct crosswind and they don’t take it up, said Sean Elliott, who flies second-in-command. For one, the long propellers are so low to the ground, “you can’t crank in a lot of bank angle,” Elliott said.

Crew designated as scanners sit in the center of the aircraft and watch the landing gear and flaps to verify they’re moving, look for oil leaks and in general serve as the pilots’ eyes and ears from the propellers to the back. Each engine takes 80 gal. of oil. The aircraft burns roughly $3,000 of fuel per hour.

From its home in Wichita to Cedar Rapids for the first leg of the trip, Doc flew at an altitude of 5,500 ft. at 225 mph. In wartime, the then-pressurized aircraft flew at more than 30,000 ft., but there are no plans to fly it at that altitude today.

In the cabin, noise levels reach a loud 101 to 107 decibals, making conversation nearly impossible.

On the way to Iowa, the aircraft carried 13 people, including seven crewmembers—two pilots, a flight engineer, a navigator-flight engineer and three scanners.

Doc’s crew is lighter than the standard crew of 10 when it also carried a bombardier, a gunner in the central fire control seat and a tail gunner. Scanners were also gunners during the war. The B-29s could also carry up to 20,000 lb. of weapons.

Once airborne, I sat in the various positions where the young men flew 16-hr. bombing runs from the B-29 base Tinian in the Mariana Islands to Japan and back. While the aircraft could climb to altitudes not within reach by the enemy, they were often chased until they could reach a safe height.

One of the most interesting of seats is the bombardier’s position in the nose. There, the young gunners could see the world go by at 200-250 mph with only glass separating them and the enemy.  It would be a wild ride in combat.

The central fire control seat in the middle of the aircraft is secured on a raised platform and swivels 360 deg. It allowed the gunner, who electronically controlled the gun turrets onboard, to look through a raised bubble to scan the sky. On either side are the scanners, and behind them the passengers who sit on Cessna Caravan seats installed for their use.

A long tunnel extends from the cockpit to the center of the aircraft, which means crawling on hands and knees between areas.

At the tail, the tail gunner’s position had to be the loneliest. While the section is pressurized, the area around it is not, so the gunner could only enter or leave at lower altitudes. Long bombing runs meant hours of isolation in flight.

Doc’s arrival in Cedar Rapids for a special event drew 2,000 people who waited more than 2 hr. to board the historic aircraft. Lines were so long that the event, scheduled to end at 7 p.m., lasted until 9 p.m. only when it was too dark to see inside.

Jerome Micka, 93, who flew 29 missions on the B-29 during World War II, came out to view the aircraft, choking up at its sight. His last mission was a relief mission dropping food, medicine and clothing to U.S. prisoners of war held by the Japanese in China. In another mission, “we got shot up and it knocked out two of our (engines) there,” he said. The aircraft had to land in Okinawa. “We only had one chance to land.”

Nearly 4,000 B-29 bombers were built during and just after World War II. Doc was built in 1944 inside Boeing Wichita’s Plant II. It was part of a squadron of eight aircraft known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It flew during the Korean War and was decommissioned in 1956.

Doc’s landing at Oshkosh for EAA AirVenture was met by Tony Mazzolini, who rescued Doc from the Mojave Desert where it had spent 42 years as a sanctuary for birds and other desert creatures. Mazzolini served as a flight engineer on a variety of military aircraft during the Korean War. The project began as a suggestion during a meeting of military aircraft buffs when they were kicking around ideas for a restoration project. After Doc’s discovery in 1987, it took 12 years to take possession.

In 2000, the aircraft rolled into Wichita in pieces on the back of six flatbed trucks, and work began in a donated Boeing hangar where it was first built. When Boeing downsized, work was halted and the aircraft was kept in storage for a time. In 2013, a group of Wichita business leaders, led by retired Spirit Aerospace CEO Jeff Turner, formed Doc’s Friends, a non-profit organization, to complete the work. After 16 years and more than 350,000 hr. of volunteer time to restore it to flyable condition, the aircraft flew for the first time a year ago.

Doc’s Friends is raising money to build a special hangar and education center for the aircraft at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport where it will be on display when it is at home. So far, $4.5 million of the $6.5 million needed has been raised. The organization is selling memorial bricks and has started a GoFundMe page to raise the remainder of the money. It also is selling memorabilia. Hangar construction begins in September.

“To see this aircraft back in the air again and to look at it and its size, it’s hard to imagine it even got it out of the desert, first of all,” Mazzolini said after the aircraft’s arrival in Oshkosh. “I never knew what hurdles I was going to come up with in the course of getting it back in the air.” Tribute is due to the volunteers who restored it and brought the dream to reality, he said.

The restored aircraft is a flying tribute to the men and women who designed, built and flew the B-29. Doc is on display through EAA AirVenture July 24-July 30. It will be used a flying museum at events around the country.