Historic B-29 Superfortress 'Doc' expected to be flyable by year's end

5/22/2014

By Molly McMillin

By Molly McMillin

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — If all goes as planned, the B-29 Superfortress undergoing restoration inside a Boeing Wichita hangar should fly by the end of the year.

It will be the culmination of decades of work to find and secure the B-29 — called "Doc" — and bring it out of a California desert where it was used as a practice target. The plane will be one of only two restored B-29s in flying condition.

Volunteers must still install the plane's fourth and final engine, install avionics and fuel cells, check all the electrical systems and flight controls, and obtain an airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We've got to raise some more money to do that," said Jeff Turner, chairman of the board of Doc's Friends, a Wichita nonprofit group restoring the historic bomber. It will take $750,000 to $1 million to complete the restoration, he said.

Besides finishing the airplane, the group must find a permanent home for it and secure the funds to build a hangar and to maintain it. The plan is to keep the plane in Wichita, its birthplace, but that will depend on funds.

"If we can raise the money to build the building in Wichita, it will be in Wichita," Turner said.

Building a hangar will cost from $3 million to $9 million, depending on its size and scope. A simple metal hangar won't cost as much as a larger museum-quality building where Doc and other historic planes could be on display for the public to see.

Ideally, it would be located at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, Turner said. The airport has easy access for visitors and has a crosswind runway, which is important because the B-29 does not have nosewheel steering, Turner said.

The massive restoration project began in Wichita in 2000 but was on hiatus for a few years, the victim of a poor economy and lack of hangar space.

Restoration restarted early this year after a group of business leaders and aviation enthusiasts formed a nonprofit organization, Doc's Friends, and acquired the airplane from Tony Mazzolini in 2013.

Boeing donated a military hangar on the east side of Oliver in south Wichita, providing a work space that would facilitate completion of the restoration.

The plane was built in 1944 inside Boeing Wichita's Plant II. It was first assigned to a squadron named after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This one was known as Doc.

The plane was built too late to fly bombing missions during World War II. It served as a radar trainer during the Korean War.

Mazzolini, backed by the United States Aviation Museum, rescued Doc from the Mojave Desert in California, where it had spent 42 years as a sanctuary for birds and other desert creatures.

In 1987, he formed a plan to restore the airplane. Thirteen years later, it arrived in Wichita.

The final phase of the project, Turner said, is to operate the airplane as a flying museum — dedicated to the men and women who built, flew and serviced B-29s — and to preserve history.

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