Aviation enthusiasts and history buffs were treated to ride flights Saturday as “Doc,” the B-29 Superfortress airplane, made a scheduled appearance at the Great Bend Municipal Airport. Saturday’s appearance was part of a three-day, three-city tour in Kansas which began in Wichita on Friday and will wrap up in Olathe on Sunday.
This weekend’s visit was not the first stop for the aircraft in Great Bend as “Doc” also made an appearance at the 2018 Great Bend Airfest. The flight rides offer nine seats which are stationed at different locations throughout the plane’s fuselage.
Because of social distancing and scheduling, the public was not allowed tour access to the plane but people were able to view it from a distance.
The 2018 Great Bend Airfest also featured another B-29, “Fifi,” which was allowed to provide flight rides. “Doc” was restricted to ground tours at the time. In conjunction with Doc’s Friends (the non-profit that manages the plane), the airport was able to schedule another visit from “Doc” that year.
Today, “Doc” and “Fifi” are the only two airworthy B-29s in existence. “There were roughly 100 B-29s that were built in late 1943 and early 1944, mainly in Wichita,” said “Doc” pilot and B-29 historian Frank Berry. “But only 13 or 14 of those were operational.”
Berry said General Curtis LeMay was in need of 145 Superfortresses beginning in May of 1944, 12 months before the surrender of Germany and a year and four months before the end of the war. “He needed a way to figure how to get these airplanes ready for combat,” Berry said. According to Berry, in its infancy, the B-29 was plagued with mechanical problems. Engine troubles, issues with pressurization seals and problems with electrical connectors were just some of many complications faced by the aircraft in the early stages of production.
To help relieve and troubleshoot some of the pressure of one base tackling the entire development and training process, four facilities were set up across Kansas: Pratt, Great Bend, Walker and Herrington.
“Great Bend has paid a very nice homage to the legacy of the B-29,” said Berry referring to the B-29 Memorial at Great Bend Municipal Airport. “GIs, drill sergeants and a bunch of other groups of people worked throughout the next year to make sure the B-29 was ready for combat and Great Bend played a huge part in that,” he said.
Berry said once the planes were combat-ready, Great Bend began serving as a training base for flight crews.
Berry worked as a chief mechanic for 28 years when he joined the “Doc” flight crew in 2013. “I helped take ‘Doc’ from the restoration side to the flight side of the equation,” he said. “So as a pilot and a mechanic, this opportunity was perfect for me.”
One of the highlights of Berry’s career was the opportunity to meet Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, the lead pilot in the first atomic bomb mission to Hiroshima. On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Tibbets, who was a colonel at the time, and a crew of 11 others dropped the first of two atomic bombs from the B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” over Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, another B-29, Bock’s Car, dropped another bomb over the city of Nagasaki, bringing the Japanese war machine to its knees ending the war.
“I have his (Tibbets’) and a few more of the crew members’ autographs,” said Berry. In 2017, Berry flew to Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri, with Tibbets’ grandson, Paul Tibbets IV, serving as copilot. “It was quite an honor to meet those folks,” Berry said. “General Tibbets was just the nicest person I ever met and I’m so fortunate to have been able to have met him before his passing.”
Based out of Wichita, “Doc” is one of 1,644 B-29s manufactured in Wichita during World War II. The plane was found decaying in the Mojave Desert in 1987. Since then, it has been restored to flying status, serving as a flying museum.
According to www.b29doc.com, over the past 15 plus years, hundreds of volunteers have worked on “Doc” and the restoration project. Skilled workers and retirees from Wichita’s aviation industry, veterans, active duty military and others wanting to honor those who served, have spent tens of thousands of hours on the aircraft’s restoration. Countless individuals and organizations also made financial and in-kind contributions to keep the project going.
History of “Doc” (from b29doc.com)
“Doc” Rolls Off Assembly Line
In March of 1945, B-29 No. 44-69972 (now known as “Doc”) was delivered to the U.S. Army. About five months later another B-29 was used to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, eventually leading to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II.
“Doc” Serves in Multiple Non-Combat Roles
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 and in March a year later, “Doc” and the rest of its squadron became targets for bomb training at China Lake, California.
Found by Tony Mazzolini
For 42 years, “Doc” sat in the Mojave Desert serving as a target for the U.S. Navy. In 1987, Tony Mazzolini found Doc and began plans to remove and eventually restore the B-29 warbird to flying status. It would take another 12 years before Mazzolini and his team would be able to take possession of the airplane from the U.S. government.
Restoration Plans Begin
After more than a decade of contacting multiple government agencies and working with volunteers in the China Lake area, Tony took possession of the once target practice plane. A few months later in April of 1998, Mazzolini and his team of volunteers towed “Doc” out of its 42-year resting place on the floor of the Mojave Desert.
“Doc” Returns to Wichita
After arranging for an inspection by an expert on aging Boeing aircraft, Mazzolini realized it would take extensive resources and specific expertise to return the “Doc” to flying condition. So the B-29 returned to Wichita in sections on flatbed trailers in May of 2000. Volunteers began the process of reassembling the B-29 and drew up plans to restore the historic warbird which was now sitting a few hundred feet from where it first rolled off the Boeing-Wichita assembly line some 50+ years before. Dedicated volunteers spent countless hours in the early stages of restoring the historic plane.
“Doc’s” Friends Makes Restoration Commitment
In February of 2013, a group of Wichita aviation enthusiasts & business leaders led by retired Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner formed Doc’s Friends, a 501c3 non-profit board to manage the restoration project and help see it through to completion.
Inaugural Air Show Tour Season Begins
“Doc” attends eight air shows in four states, including the 2017 EAA AirVenture and the 70th Anniversary of Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C., attracting record crowds along the way.
Hangar Construction Begins
Major construction begins on the B-29 “Doc” Hangar and Education Center in 2018.
Construction on “Doc’s” Home is Completed
B-29 “Doc” was rolled into his new home in November, 2018 as major construction on the hangar was completed.
B-29 “Doc” Hangar, Education & Visitors Center Opens to the Public
In January of 2019, the 42,000 square-foot home is opened to the public and officially dedicated.
2019 B-29 “Doc” History Restored Tour Season
The 2019 tour season for B-29 “Doc” included stops in 21 cities across 10 states. Throughout the April through October season, the “Doc” flight crew and volunteer team executed more than 70 B-29 “Doc” Flight Experiences and logged more than 115 flight hours in 2019.