FIFI, the world’s only airworthy Boeing B-29 Superfortress and “the Queen of the Fleet” for the Commemorative Air Force, returned to the skies early Thursday morning for its first flight since 2004.
“It is an emotional day at the CAF for our volunteer-members and staff,” CAF President Stephan Brown said after the Aug. 5 flight. “There were more than a few tears of joy shed by those who have worked over these past few years to see FIFI fly again. Today is a new beginning for this historic warbird. Thanks to the dedication of our members and the support of Jim Cavanaugh, the B-29 can once again return to telling the stories of the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.”
Following more than four years of work, FIFI returned to the skies just before 9 a.m. on Thursday morning for a 39-minute flight. Back on the ground, the crew exited the B-29 with massive smiles and unimaginable excitement.
“She ran like a top,” said Paul Stojkov, a CAF colonel and one of the pilots for the B-29. “It’s a very special day. A lot of us have been waiting for this for four and a half years. We have to thank everyone involved for their help in getting her to this point.”
“I’m speechless,” said CAF B-29 Crew Chief Dave Miller. “I can’t express in words my appreciation for the opportunity to work with FIFI and for the help of everyone involved in working to get her back in the air. Thank you to the entire CAF family.”
“I am deeply pleased to see FIFI fly again after such a long wait,” said CAF General Staff member Neils Agather. “Today’s flight is a product of the dedication of many people, Gary Austin, Dave Miller and many more volunteers. We must also thank Jim Cavanaugh for his support. My parents, Vic and Fifi, would be proud.”
The CAF Airpower Museum will open its doors at 7 a.m. on Sat. Aug. 7, for visitors who would like to get a front row seat for FIFI’s pre-flight preparations and flight. Visitors to the museum will be ushered to the main hangar for an up-close view of the crew preparing this massive bomber for flight. Once FIFI begins to head for the runways, visitors will be escorted to a prime viewing area, to witness the B-29’s crew training.
“Saturday is the perfect opportunity for our community to come out to the CAF and see FIFI fly,” said Brown. “Throughout the morning, the B-29 crew will be completing the required crew training that includes ‘touch and gos’ at Midland International Airport — it will be quite a show.”
The B-29 was originally fitted with the Wright R-3350-57AM engine, which had a less-than-desirable reputation since its inception. True to this reputation, FIFI has experienced numerous problems with her engines in the 30-plus years she has been flying with the CAF. 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 to not 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 required reworking the engine mounts and some of the engine cowling, making it a lengthy undertaking.
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 U. S. Air Force, no B-29s remained in inventory, even at storage or disposal depots. But the CAF colonels had faith, and it paid off.
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 added B-29 SN44-62070 to its fleet. That was just the beginning of the task. 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 CAF’s B-29 was christened FIFI and joined the other World War II fighters and bombers in CAF’s fleet.
Collecting, restoring and flying vintage historical aircraft for more than half a century, the CAF ranks as one of the largest private air forces in the world. A non-profit educational association, the CAF has approximately 9,000 members and a fleet of 156 airplanes distributed throughout the country to 74 units located in 27 states. For more information: CommemorativeAirForce.org or 432-563-1000.