FiFi – The Last Flying B-29 Superfortress

FiFi,  a Boeing B-29A Superfortress, is one of only a few surviving B-29 bombers in existence and the only B-29 currently flying.  It is owned by the Commemorative Air Force, currently based at Addison, Texas.  FiFi tours the U.S.A. and Canada,  participating in air shows and providing flight experiences.  For prices ranging from $595 to $1495,  you can even book a ride on FiFi.  This post highlights the sometimes difficult task of doing aircraft maintenance on warbirds. The story of FiFi’s restoration is a fascinating look at aircraft engine technology from the World War II era.  Looking back, it is amazing how much aircraft design, performance, and maintenance has improved in the past 65 years.

FiFi - B-29 Superfortress - aircraft maintenance on warbirds

FiFi,The last Flying B-29 Superfortress. Credit Wikimedia Commons, robef

Fifi’s Origins

Built by Boeing at the Renton factory in Washington, B-29A serial number 44-62070 was delivered to the US Army Air Force in Kansas in 1945. Modified to meet a TB-29A standard, it served as an administrative aircraft before it was placed  in “desert storage”.  Subsequently, FiFi was returned to active duty in 1953.

Following its retirement in 1958, Boeing B-29A, S/N 44-62070, as part of a group of 36 B-29s, was relocated to the US Navy Naval Weapons Center and bombing range at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, located in Muroc Dry Lake, California.  The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) then acquired FiFi in 1971 and registered it as a civilian aircraft. It was subsequently flown to CAF headquarters at Harlingen, Texas in August 1971 and was then re-registered as civilian aircraft N529B in August 1981.

Aircraft maintenance on warbirds

The Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone was one of the most powerful radial aircraft engines produced in the United States.  It was a twin row, supercharged, air-cooled, radial engine with 18 cylinders. Power ranged from 2,200 to over 3,700 hp, depending on the model.  First developed prior to World War II, the R-3350′s design required a long time to mature before finally being used to power the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.

In 2006, however, following a series of engine problems, including an engine failure which occurred during an airshow, the B-29/B-24 Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force made the difficult, but prudent decision to ground FiFi until more reliable engines could be retrofitted.  A little known fact is that the original R-3350 Wright Cyclone radial engine needed further development, and was effectively underpowered for the 60 ton B-29. Even at the end of World War II,  engine overheating problems  were common, and the engines had a tendency to swallow their own valves when this occurred.  Due to high magnesium content in the crankcase alloy, the resulting engine fires were sometimes so intense the main wing spar could burn through in seconds, and lead to catastrophic wing failure. Only after World War II was the R-3350 improved enough to allow for commercial use on other planes such as the Lockheed Constellation.

In a joint press release, dated January 21 2008, the Commemorative Air Force and the Cavanaugh Flight Museum  announced a pledge of $1.2 million  to re-engine Fifi. After a $3 million dollar restoration project was completed, FiFi was flown for the first time in several years, on August 5, 2010. Later, FiFi was pronounced once again ready to perform at airshows, and appear in feature films and documentaries.  FiFi is now based in Addison, Texas at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, which is the facility owned by Jim Cavanaugh, a major supporter and donor  of FiFi.  FiFi has made  appearances in the two movies:  Enola Gay: The Men, The Mission, and the Atomic Bomb(1980) and in the 1983 film The Right Stuff .

 

Wright Cyclone 3350 Radial Engine

Wright Cyclone 3350 Radial Engine. Credit: Wikipedia, Kogo

The following video affords an aircraft mechanic’s perspective on the rebuilding of the B29′s Wright Cyclone R-3350 Radial Engine by volunteers of the Commemorative Air Force.  See more details on this restoration at www.cafb29b24.org.

The result of the successful engine rebuild is documented in the following video, showing the first successful post-rebuild flights. Yes, that is Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon” in the second half of the video!

Compare this recent restoration effort with what went on in the 1940′s. Here is a US Air Force photo showing engine maintenance on a B-29 at Kadena Air Force Base in 1950.

B-29 engine maintenance - Kadena 1950

B-29 engine maintenance Kadena 1950. Credit US Air Force

B-29′s were instrumental in helping the US win the War in the Pacific.  Another B-29 Superfortress, the Enola Gay, was the airplane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, effectively ending the war with Japan and ushering in a new era of military technology.

Enola Gay - B-29 Superfortress

The Enola Gay on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Lastly, in memory of those who served in World War 2, here is an undated US Air Force photo of a B-29 bomber squadron.

B-29 Superfortress bombers

YB-29 Superfortress Bombers. Credit: US Air Force

by Steve Adams

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5 Responses to “FiFi – The Last Flying B-29 Superfortress”

  1. Demetrius Huckabaa Says:

    Fairly! This was a very amazing article. Thanks for the offered details.

  2. Pożyczki pozabankowe Says:

    I like your texts very much. That is why I want to use them in my article, if that is all right. I am interesting in that topic, therefore I need you help. Please, say YES. Thank You.

  3. admin Says:

    To Pożyczki pozabankowe: You have my permission to use my FiFi B-29 article!

    Thanks,

    Steve Adams

  4. Hannah Says:

    This is a really great blog. Thx to the auther

  5. Glacier Girl – P-38 Lightning Warbird – Its Recovery and Restoration | aircraftmechanicschools.org Says:

    [...] my prior post on the B-29 “FiFi”, I noted the fact that the engines used in the 1940′s were [...]