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The Great “Arsenal of Democracy” B-29 Superfortresses

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One of the larger attractions of the 2020 “Arsenal of Democracy” flyover were the only two flying B-29 Superfortresses, “Doc” and “FiFi”, joined in flight for just the fourth time since their restorations. On practice day Thursday, the two flew in formation over the town of Culpeper, VA along with several alternating formations of disparate World War Two (WWII) aircraft.

B-29 History
The United States Army Air Corps realized that America’s primary strategic bomber, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, was inadequate for the Pacific Theater. The Air Corps needed a bomber that could carry larger payloads and operate at 3,000 mission miles.

Between May 1941 and May 1946, a total of 3,970 Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers were produced in four different plants with the majority (2,766) being built in Wichita, KS and Renton, WA. One of the largest aircraft of WWII, the B-29 had new state-of-the-art technology, including a pressurized cabin and a “Central Fire System” employing analog computers operating four remotely controlled gun turrets- each armed with two .50 caliber machine guns.

During WWII, B-29 Superfortresses were only used in the Pacific Theater, dropping over 180,000 tons of bombs and shooting down twenty-seven enemy aircraft. Their first combat mission was flown on June 5, 1944, from India “over the hump” to China. On August 6, 1945, the B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, B-29 ”Bockscar” dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The B-29 remained in active service throughout the 1950s and in other various roles until its retirement in 1965. Today, twenty-two B-29s are on display throughout the United States.

“FiFi”
“FiFi” was the first fully restored B-29 to take flight. Built in July 1945 at Boeing’s Renton, WA plant as AF S/N 44-62070, the Superfortress went straight from the factory to a training squadron- never seeing combat. Following retirement in 1958, the bomber was used for target practise at the U.S. N. Proving Grounds at China Lake, CA. In 1971, Dallas businessman and WWII Army Air Force veteran Victor N. Agather, rescued the plane from the scrap yard. Ownership passed to the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) on March 23, 1971. After three years of restoration, the B-29 was christened “FiFi” in honor of Agather’s wife- Josephine “Fifi” Agather. Registered as NX529B, “FiFi” is maintained and operated by the B-29/B-24 Wing of the CAF at its Dallas, TX Executive Airport headquarters.

“Doc”
“Doc” is one of 1,644 B-29 Superfortresses manufactured at Boeing’s Wichita, KS plant during WWII.
In March of 1945, B-29 No. 44-69972 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps. In July of 1951, “Doc” was assigned to radar calibration duty, along with a few other B-29s. The squadron was known as the “Seven Dwarfs.” In May of 1955, “Doc” was assigned to target-towing duty. A year later, “Doc” and the rest of its squadron became targets for bomb training at China Lake. For the next 42 years, the Superfortress lay unattended in the Mojave Desert.

In 1987, Mr. Tony Mazzolini found “Doc” and began plans for removal and restoration of the B-29 to flying status. It would take twelve years before Mazzolini and his team were able to take possession from the U.S. government. Following, for the next fifteen years, the Superfortress was extensively restored by volunteers at the Wichita, KS Boeing plant where it was originally built. “Doc” returned to flying status on July 17, 2016 after a successful flight at McConnell AFB, KS. The Superfortress now resides in a brand new hanger owned by the Wichita, KS based 501c3 non-profit- “Doc’s Friends.”

Serving as honorary air boss for the 2020 “Great Arsenal of Democracy” flyby was Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Vaucher. Vaucher, now 101 years old, led a massive “show of force” formation of 525 B–29 Superfortresses that overflew the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, as Japan officially surrendered to Allied forces on September 2, 1945. The retired Lt. Col. was again on the flight deck of a Superfortress when taken on a flight over northern Virginia, in honor of his distinguished military service.

Aside from those in the air and on the battlefield, there were other WWII veterans making sacrifices on the home front. One of the most iconic symbols of America’s “Great Arsenal of Democracy” was “Rosie the Riveter.” The recognizable character, with a red bandanna on her head and bent-arm pose to show might, was created to counter the Japanese propagandist Tokyo Rose. On the ramp at Manassas, admiring the B-29s, was a real-life “Rosie the Riveter.” Ninety-five year old Connie Palacioz is one of the last surviving women who worked in the Boeing Wichita, KS plant. 1,644 B-29s were manufactured at Wichita during WWII and Ms. Palacioz riveted nose assemblies on every one of them! Following WWII service in the Pacific, B-29 “Doc” sat in the Mojave Desert for 42 years. When found, only seven rivets were missing from the nose section! A testament to the gallant work of those “Rosie the Riveters.”

Story by:
Daniel O. Myers

What Might Have Been over Washington D.C.

Featuring the photography of  Shawn Byers, Mike Colaner, and Howard German.

The Arsenal of Democracy Fly Over, planned for September 2020, was the make-up date f0r the postponed May, 2020 Fly Over, planned to parade overhead the Mall in Washington D.C. This collective group of pilots and planes would have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The COVID-19 outbreak was the original reason that the Fly Over was postponed. As it came to pass, the autumnal date got “weathered out” by cloud ceilings and visibility, which were lower than the required minimums developed for safe passage through the tightly controlled airspace overhead Washington D.C. Originally, there were one hundred aircraft invited to participate, and around 75 aircraft agreed to take part in the parade over the Mall. The Fly Over would have presented a memorable living history performance of important chapters in World War II’s aviation history. 

Had the event taken place, the flying program called for twenty separate formations of aircraft, starting with the Civil Air Patrol and concluding with a Missing-Man tribute. In chronological order, these formations of aircraft represented historically significant World War II events. Below,  we have combined the theme of each formation with photos taken during the practice flying from Manassas VA and Culpeper VA airports from the week before the planned event. We’ve added some interesting facts about the aircraft that would have been part of the program. 

Daniel O. Myers wrote a pair of articles about the Arsenal of Democracy event. Three photographers from our journals – Shawn Byers, Mike Colaner and Howard German – happily photographed the practice flying sessions during the week prior to the September parade weekend. Since an abundance of great photos were taken, it  offered us an opportunity to publish more photos here in ClassicWarbirds.net. We still have full coverage of the large gathering of warbirds here, and in our sister publication – Photorecon.net.

Here are the twenty formations’ make-ups with what could have been many possible aircraft pairings.

1- Civil Air Patrol: Early during World War II, WACO biplanes were used by the U.S. Civil Air Patrol along coastlines. Duties included anti-submarine patrol, although this  1939 WACO UPF-7 aircraft wears training colors. 


2- America Trains for War: Primary trainers at the start of the war included Stearman/Boeing PT-17 and N2S biplanes like these.


3- Battle of Britain: Classic duo – Supermarine’s Spitfire (below in the photo) and Hawker’s Hurricane.


4- Pearl Harbor/ Flying Tigers: The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was a primary fighter early in both the European and Pacific Theatres.


5- Doolittle Raiders: A huge morale booster, the Doolittle Raid on Japan used 16 aircraft carrier-launched, early model B-25s.


6- Battle of Midway: Grumman’s F4F Wildcat was both a Navy carrier-based and Marines land-based fighter. Britain’s Royal Navy also used the airframe, naming it the Martlet. This is a license-built FM-2 Wildcat built by General Motors. 


7- Guadalcanal Campaign: Bell’s unconventional P-39 Aircobra had its engine mounted behind the cockpit and was used primarily in the Pacific by U.S. forces.


8- Attacking Berlin: Some of the first bombing raids over Berlin were carried out by Royal Air Force Mosquito bombers.


9- Battle of the Atlantic: Consolidated built the PB4Y Liberator with twin vertical tails. This PB4Y Privateer wearing Coast Guard colors had a single tail and was used later in the War.


10- Long Range Fighter Escorts: North American P-51 Mustang fighters’ laminar-flow wing and Rolls Royce Merlin engine helped push the fighter to previously unseen performance by mid-War.


11- The Big Week: Early in 1944, the “Big Week” of strategic bombing included hundreds of B-17s, among the large U.S. Army Air Force and Royal Air Force effort.


12- D-Day: Paratroopers began the ground campaign in France on the eve of the Normandy Landings. Many troopers were carried aloft in C-47s wearing “Invasion Stripes” like these.


13- Battle of the Bulge: The Douglas A-26 Invader bomber/attack aircraft was just arriving in the European Theatre as the Battle of the Bulge occurred in late 1944.


14- Iwo Jima: Marine F-4U Corsairs, built by the Chance Vought company, bore a portion of the air support for the landing Marines.


15- The Final Act: B-29s operated from liberated Pacific islands during the last stages of the Pacific Theatre air war.


16- The Hump / Air Transport Command: Supplying the China/Burma/India Theatre with vital supplies and paratroop operations, C-46 and C-47 transports like these flew in naturally-dangerous mountainous and weather conditions.


17- Bearcats: After early Pacific naval air battles, fighters needed to have better climbing characteristics during combat to be more effective. One source also mentions an interceptor role against later Kamikaze attacks too. Grumman’s resulting F8F Bearcat arrived just a little too late to see battle in World War II, especially in the Pacific whose conditions necessitated it.


18- Air Battle of Chi Chi Jima: U.S. Navy Grumman TBM torpedo/bombers like this and Curtiss SB2C Helldivers bore the largest load of close air support of the “island hopping” bombing attacks in the Pacific.


19- Onward to Victory: The light liaison plane, such as this Stinson L-5 Sentinal, was used for naval and Army artillery spotting, communications and medivac missions as islands were invaded.


20- Missing Man Formation: “L-Bird” small utility aircraft that were “eyes in the sky” well before drones were invented. Flying low and slow, they endured many losses from anti-aircraft fire.

2020 “Arsenal of Democracy” Flyover

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Photos by Shawn Byers, Mike Colaner, and Howard German

On December 29, 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast a radio fireside chat from the White House stating, “We must be the great arsenal of democracy. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice, as we would show were we at war.” On December 7th 1941, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by Japanese naval and air forces. With this unprovoked and dastardly act, a state of war existed between the United States and the empire of Japan. The following day, America was officially at war.

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Random Warbird Aircraft #9

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Royal Australian Air Force RF-111C dump and burn spectacle at Avalon, Australia.

Here is our ninth Random Warbirds photo collection, enjoy!

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