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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed "FIFI": An old warrior's triumphant return

By FREDERICK A. JOHNSEN
FIFI
B-29 draws immediate interest from the crowd after its arrival at AirVenture 2011. Photo by Brady Lane/EAA
FIFI
Aaron Tippin rode in the nose on Tuesday’s flight into Oshkosh and was greeted by a full crowd at ConocoPhillips Plaza. “Best seat in the house,” he said. Photo by Brady Lane/EAA
FIFI
“FIFI” on short final to Runway 36 at Oshkosh on Tuesday.

See the photo gallery

She’s back and as stunning as ever: “FIFI” the Boeing B-29 is by far the biggest warbird at AirVenture 2011 or any show. The big bomber was flown here by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). In 1971, a forlorn batch of B-29s sat in general disarray in the Mojave Desert at the Navy’s China Lake weapons test facility. Negotiations with the government completed, a CAF team selected the best-looking candidate for restoration and flew it to Harlingen, Texas, after a nine-week desert refurbishment. Four decades later, after some ups and downs, the CAF’s B-29 is still the only Superfortress flying.

A world war game-changer
The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was a game-changer back during World War II.

Intended to eventually overtake B-17s and B-24s, the larger Superfort relied on remotely sighted gun turrets, huge, dual-supercharged R-3350 engines, and pressurization to enable long missions at altitudes as high as 40,000 feet.

Yet even as the B-29 was maturing during World War II, becoming the most sophisticated strategic bomber to date, the seeds of its own demise were being sowed by the turbojet revolution.

While survivable against World War II Japanese piston-engined fighters, B-29s proved vulnerable to North Korean MiG-15 jets in the 1950s. A brief few years of ascendancy, punctuated by their use as the only combat atomic bombers, marked the passing of the B-29.

The CAF to the rescue
The CAF’s efforts to fly an example of this pivotal technology required another three years of fundraising and restoration before its B-29 was finished and christened “FIFI”.

This Superfort has performed at air shows around the country ever since, with downtime in 2002-2003 to accomplish some needed corrosion control and an engine swap in 2006.

The CAF takes its responsibilities seriously when it comes to keeping this big, rare warbird flying safely.

Crew chief Dave Miller, with the B-29 at AirVenture, says, “I have a pretty good cache of parts at our warehouse in Midland (Texas).” The CAF recently acquired a healthy supply of R-3350 engines in Vietnam, perhaps a legacy to that country’s use of A-1 Skyraiders and C-119 transports that relied on the same powerplants as the B-29.

And the fraternity of warbird restorers helps out, Miller says.

When brake expander tubes became scarce, the B-17 owners’ co-op generated new production of these devices that also work on B-29s and B-24s.

Miller has established a good working relationship with the Museum of Flight in Seattle, whose static-display Superfortress has functional remotely sighted gun turrets, thanks to a dedicated volunteer who may help the CAF achieve the same goal.

Miller says he does not have logs to show how many hours the Air Force put on this B-29, but the CAF has added nearly 2,000 hours in the air in four decades of operating “FIFI”.

The B-29 is scheduled to fly in Friday’s warbird air show at AirVenture 2011. Following AirVenture, the big bomber will offer rides for sale at other Midwest venues, beginning with St. Louis next week.

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