FIFI (aircraft)

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FIFI
Fifi in air.jpg
FIFI in flight
Type Boeing Model 345
Boeing B-29A-60-BN Superfortress
Manufacturer Boeing
Construction number 11547
Manufactured 1944
Registration N529B
Serial 44-62070 USAF
First flight 21 September 1942 (first flight of type)
Owners and operators Commemorative Air Force, Midland, Texas
Status Airworthy
Preserved at Commemorative Air Force, Midland, Texas

FIFI, Boeing B-29A-60-BN Superfortress, s/n 44-62070, civil registration N529B, is one of only a few surviving in existence and the only one currently flying as of June 2014. It is owned by the Commemorative Air Force, currently based at Midland, Texas. FIFI tours the U.S.A. and Canada, taking part in air shows and offering flight experiences.

History[edit]

Built by Boeing at the Renton factory in Washington, B-29A serial number 44-62070 was delivered to the USAAF in Kansas in 1945. Modified to a TB-29A standard, it served as an administrative aircraft before being placed in "desert storage". It was returned to active duty in 1953. [1]

Following retirement in 1958, Boeing B-29A, s/n 44-62070, as part of a group of 36 B-29s, placed at the US Navy Naval Weapons Center and bombing range at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, at China Lake, California.[2] The Commemorative Air Force, then known as the Confederate Air Force, acquired it in 1971 and registered it as a civilian aircraft. It was flown to CAF headquarters at Harlingen, Texas on 3 August 1971 and re-registered as N529B in August 1981. [3]

Confederate Air Force / Commemorative Air Force[edit]

B-29 "Fifi" in flight at the World War II Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania, 4 June 2011.

The CAF had been actively searching for a B-29 for their use. Through Vic Agather they had an agreement that should one be found that was owned by the government but not in use, it would be turned over to the CAF.[4]

In 1971, a CAF pilot in the National Guard reported sighting a number of what might be B-29s on the California desert near China Lake. The CAF learned the aircraft were indeed Superfortresses that had been parked at a US Navy weapons center for 17 years. [5]The aircraft had been used for gunnery targets and abused by heat, sand and vandals. After much negotiation (the US Air Force owned the aircraft; the Navy had to agree to release one), much paperwork and a painstaking search for the best survivor, the CAF became the owner of s/n 44-62070, officially acquired title on 23 March 1971, registering it as N4249.[3]

A CAF maintenance team arrived at China Lake on 31 March 1971 and in only nine weeks, with the help of more CAF volunteers, they restored all systems and replaced fuel, oil and hydraulic hoses. The restoration process involved cannibalizing parts from other B-29s at China Lake, installing instruments, having new window bubbles made and restoring controls to working order. After the CAF technicians ran the engines, tested propellers and landing gear, N4249 was made ready to fly again by 3 August 1971. [6] They had a permit to make a single ferry flight out of China Lake although once it landed, the B-29 would be grounded.[7]

The ferry crew took on enough fuel to fly non-stop 1,250 miles to CAF Headquarters, then in Harlingen, Texas, lifted off at 7:48 a.m. and in a six-hour, 38-minute flight, brought home the last flying B-29 Superfortress without incident. 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 WWII fighters and bombers to continue the CAF mandate "to preserve the memories and teach of lessons of mankind's greatest war."[3]

Besides air displays, FIFI has appeared in films, including the Enola Gay: The Men, The Mission, and the Atomic Bomb (1980) and in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, standing in for the Bell X-1's "mothership".[8]

Air show career[edit]

In the 2011 air show season, FIFI spent a few days in the NASA Langley hangar, avoiding storms.

Throughout the years of air displays across the country, the CAF and the many volunteers kept FIFI in the air. In 2006, however, following a series of engine problems, including engine failure occurring during an airshow, the B-29/B-24 Squadron made the difficult decision to ground the aircraft until more reliable engines could be fitted. [9]In a joint press release,[10] dated 21 January 2008, the Commemorative Air Force and the Cavanaugh Flight Museum announced a pledge of $1.2M USD to re-engine Fifi.[11]

Over the next three plus years, the original Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone|Wright R-3350-57AM engines were exchanged for new engines built using parts from later model engines that powered the Douglas A-1 Skyraider and Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar during the Vietnam War, a custom built combination of the Wright R-3350-95W and Wright R-3350-26WD engines.[12]

After the $3-million restoration project was completed, Fifi was flown for the first time in several years, on 5 August 2010.[13] In 2010, "FIFI" was pronounced once again ready to perform at airshows, and "act" in feature films and documentaries throughout the Western Hemisphere. FIFI and Ol' 927 are now based in Addison, Texas at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, the facilities owned by Jim Cavanaugh, a major donor and supporter of FIFI.[14]

Fifi, as seen at EAA AirVenture 2011, the world's only flying Boeing B-29 Superfortress

See also[edit]

List of surviving B-29 Superfortresses

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "FIFI ~ The last of the B-29’s." EAA 585 Puddle Jumper, No. 2, February 2011.
  2. ^ Chinnery 1985, p. 195.
  3. ^ a b c "CAF's B-29/B-24 Squadron." Commemorative Air Force. Retrieved: 27 July 2011.
  4. ^ Warbird Digest 2006, p. 52.
  5. ^ Peltzer 2002, pp. 21–23.
  6. ^ O'Leary 1998, p. 39.
  7. ^ Warbird Digest 2006, p. 53.
  8. ^ "Fifi." CAF via Warbird Digest, No. 7, March/April 2006.
  9. ^ O'Leary 2007, pp. 16–17.
  10. ^ "Jim Cavanaugh to Sponsor CAF B-29 Bomber – FIFI." Cavanaugh Flight Museum Press Release 1-21-08, 2008. Retrieved: 17 July 2009.
  11. ^ Miller, Dave. "B-29 'FIFI' - March Maintenance Report." B-29/B-24 Squadron: Commemorative Air Force, March 2010. Retrieved: 7 May 2010.
  12. ^ "CAF FIFI first flight." Midland Museum. Retrieved: 5 August 2010.
  13. ^ "FIFI Flies Again! Only Flying B-29 Completes Successful Test Flight." eaa.org, 5 August 2010. Retrieved: 5 August 2010.
  14. ^ George, Fred. "Fifi flies again." Aviation Week, 8 May 2010.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Chinnery, Phil. "And then there were five..." Aeroplane Monthly, Volume 13, No. 4, April 1985.
  • O'Leary, Michael. "FIFI must fly." Air Classics, Volume 43, No. 1, January 2007.
  • O'Leary, Michael. "Warrior that wouldn't die." Air Classics, Volume 34, No. 7, July 1998.
  • Peltzer, Milo. "Mystery of the China Lake Superforts."Warbirds International, Volume 21, No. 1, January/February 2002.

External links[edit]