The Commemorative Air Force‘s B-29/B-24 Squadron members, based at Midland, Texas, have hung the first of four new engines on the CAF’s B-29 Superfortress, FIFI, the group said on June 12.
The hanging of the new engine is the first step in a lengthy process, said Crew Chief Dave Miller. In April, the engine arrived in Midland from Anderson Aeromotive in Grangeville, Indiana. CAF members worked throughout the month of May to prepare the new engine for installation. Now that the engine has been put into place on FIFI, the crew will begin working to connect the wires and get the engine ready to run, he said.
“We have achieved a great milestone in the life of FIFI,” said Miller. “The arrival and hanging of the first engine is tangible evidence that the B-29 will be back in the air soon. The re-engine project is moving forward very well and we hope to have FIFI back in the air in 2010.”
The installation process will be repeated with the three remaining engines as they are completed by Anderson Aeromotive and Ezell Aviation. Once all four new engines are installed and tested, FIFI will be back in the air.
The B-29 was originally fitted with Wright R-3350-57AM engines, which has had a less-than-desirable reputation. True to that reputation, FIFI has experienced numerous problems with her engines in the 30-plus years she has been flying with the CAF, Miller said. Following the discovery of metal shavings in the engine oil, the B-29/B-24 Squadron held a lengthy series of meetings with CAF personnel and experts in the field of aircraft restoration and the decision was made not to fly the plane again until it could be fitted with engines that are a custom built combination of the R-3350-95W and R-3350-26WD engines. The refit requires reworking the engine mounts and some of the cowling, thus making it a lengthy undertaking, he explained.
When the Commemorative Air Force (then Confederate Air Force) began searching for a B-29 for its collection of historical military aircraft, World War II had been over for 21 years. The Superfortresses that helped end it had long since yielded to new generations of jet-powered strategic bombers and vanished. According to the United States Air Force, no B-29s remained in inventory, even at storage or disposal depots but, in 1971, a pilot reported sighting a number of what might have been B-29s in the California desert near China Lake. The CAF learned the aircraft were indeed Superfortresses that had been parked at a Navy weapons center for 17 years. They had been used for gunnery targets and abused by heat, sand and vandals. After much negotiation, paperwork and a painstaking process of elimination to find the best survivor, the CAF became the owner of B-29 SN44-62070.
That was just the beginning of the task, Miller said. The complete restoration to CAF standards of airworthiness was a long and expensive project involving more than three years of fund-raising and hard work. Late in 1974, the B-29 was christened FIFI and joined the other World War II fighters and bombers which help to “preserve the memories and teach lessons of mankind’s greatest war.”
For information: www.commemorativeairforce.org