Between 1943 and 1946, the Boeing company manufactured 3,970 B-29 heavy bombers. Today only one is still flying. Her name is “Fi Fi”.
This weekend, residents of Reading, Pennsylvania will get a chance to see this amazing artifact of the Pacific War up close and personal. In fact, for $100, visitors to the town’s regional airport will even be able to take a ride in the famous B-29.
This last surviving Superfortress will be joined by a P-51 Mustang, a Boeing Stearman trainer and a C-45 Expediter, as well as an assortment of historic re-enactors, wartime vehicles, weapons and a full roster of 40s-style crooners, swing bands and entertainers. It’s all part of Reading’s annual “WWII Weekend” that starts Friday and runs through Sunday.
Although Fi Fi is the event’s guest of honour, she is actually owned and operated by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a not-for-profit organization that presides over a network of vintage warbird collections from around the U.S. The group maintains 150 historic aircraft at various airfields and museums throughout the country. More than 100 of these planes are still airworthy. The complete CAF inventory includes just about every model of fighter and bomber used by the United States in World War Two, along with a number of classic RAF aircraft and even a handful of Axis planes like the Me-108 trainer, the A6M Zero, a replica Val dive bomber and a Ju-52 three engine transport. The CAF even boasts a working Cold War-era Mig-17 fighter jet. To see a list the CAF’s full collection, click here.
Fi Fi has been with the CAF for more than 40 years. Originally known simply as B-29A 44-62070, she rolled off the assembly line in 1945 and was put to work as a training aircraft. After the war she was withdrawn from service, only to be recalled during the Korean War. The aircraft was soon after transferred to the U.S. Navy along with three-dozen B-29s and was eventually retired for good in 1958. The CAF (then known as the Confederate Air Force) took possession of the plane in 1971 and set about restoring her. She has since been a regular on the North American airshow circuit. In recent years, Fi Fi was pulled from the flight line following a 2006 engine failure, but she’s been refitted and is now back in the air. The iconic aircraft will be appearing as part of the CAF’s 2013 Air Power History Tour. To see if she will be in your area this summer, check out the schedule here.
Watch below to see some stunning HD footage of Fi Fi in action at the Reading, Pa airshow.
The Superfortress is an amazing aircraft with a remarkable history. Here are some facts:
- The B-29 was first dreamed up as early as 1938 as a high-flying successor to the B-17 Flying Fortress. The U.S. Army Air Force placed its first order for 250 in May of 1941.
- The B-29 could cruise above 31,000 feet – far out of the reach of both Japanese fighters and anti-aircraft guns.
- Since it flew at such unprecedented altitudes, the fuselage and cockpit were fully pressurized – a first for a combat aircraft.
- The B-29 carried a full battery of automated machine gun turrets that were operated by a rudimentary on-board computer system designed by General Electric. A small crew of gunners could fire the weapons via remote control. The computer system compensated for airspeed, temperature, wind direction and even barometric pressure when firing.
- The B-29 made its combat debut in an air raid on Bangkok, Thailand on June 5, 1944. The mission involved as many as 100 of the aircraft. Not one of the planes’ bombs got within a mile and half of either of the of the targets — a bridge and a power station.
- Nine days later, a sortie of B-29s struck a steel plant in Yahata, Japan. It was the first time since the Doolittle Raid of 1942 that the Japanese home islands had been attacked by Allied aircraft.
- Soon hundreds of B-29s were regularly raiding the whole of Japan and elsewhere in the Far East. They operated from bases in the Pacific and China, while some missions were launched from as far away as India. These sorties saw B-29s traversing the Himalayan Mountains of Central Asia.
- While the aircraft operated exclusively in the Pacific theatre, the U.S. military deployed a single B-29, nicknamed “the Hobo Queen”, to England in 1944. The mission was part of a campaign aimed at fooling Germany into thinking that squadrons of the planes were about to be introduced to Europe.
- In addition to dropping the two atomic bombs that brought the Second World War to a swift and fiery conclusion, a B-29 also hauled the famous Bell X-1 test plane into the stratosphere. The famous jet was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier.
- The Tupolev Tu-4 was a bolt-for-bolt Soviet copy of the B-29. While the Americans refused to supply the then cutting-edge aircraft to the communists, four were forced to divert to the Soviet Union after bombing runs over Japan where they made emergency landings. Despite protests from Washington, the Russians impounded the aircraft and transferred them to the Tupolev plant near Moscow where they were disassembled and copied. The Tu-4 entered service in 1947. More than 800 were manufactured. Some of these were later transferred to the Chinese air force.
- Most of the American B-29s were mothballed after the war, only to be recalled to service in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. The last combat mission of the B-29 took place on July 27, 1953. The line was finally retired in 1960.