B-29 Superfortress Flight

Copyright 2013, Scott D. Murdock

I first saw the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) B-29, "FIFI," over thirty years ago at an air show in Texas.  Imagine my delight when I learned the Superfortress would be visiting my area -- with rides available!  The morning of 21 Aug 2013, I reported in at the CAF tent, set up on the outskirts of City of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport (COS).  The airport shares the runways with Peterson AFB, which seemed appropriate for the occasion since B-29s were based at Peterson Field during W.W.II.  CAF also had their B-24, C-45, and P-51 on hand and taking flight during the day.

You enter the cockpit by way of a ladder at the aft end of the nose gear compartment, climbing up through a hatch in the floor a few feet behind the pilots (pilot on the left side, copilot on the right side).  My seat was the flight observer's jump seat, directly behind the pilot and facing inward.  So I had a limited view of the pilot, a good view of the copilot, and a great view of the flight engineer.  The flight engineer sits behind the copilot and faces rear.  Two other paying guests were a few feet farther back; one at the navigator station on the left side with a window and a work table, and one at the radio operator station on the right side with a large bank of equipment.  We had more room in this aircraft than it had during service, as the upper and lower gun turrets were inoperative and the bulky gun systems removed.  Back in the day, the navigator and radio operator were squeezed in and could barely see each other.  One other passenger rode the bombardier position in the nose; the back of his seat was even with the instrument panel between pilot and copilot.  This fellow had an amazing view out the nose of the aircraft, but he had to remain in his seat the entire flight for safety reasons.  The other two cockpit passengers and I were allowed to move around except during takeoff and landing.  In fact, just for fun we switched seats so I was in the navigator's seat for our landing.  There is a tunnel, barely large enough to crawl through, that connects the cockpit to the gunner compartment.  We were not allowed to enter the tunnel, but we could look through and see the other tourists flying in the back.

The gunner tourists climbed a ladder to enter the aircraft through a hatch on the right side of the fuselage, aft of the wings. They had a good view through the side windows, and from the top gunner's pedestal seat looking out the upper sighting station.  For our flight, three crew members flew in the back, one monitored the auxiliary power unit, the others kept an eye on the passengers and visually scanned the engines for any signs of trouble.  Part of our pre-flight briefing was "If you see anything burning, smoking, or dripping, be sure a crew member knows about it!"

Those huge radial engines run fine once they're warm.  But they don't care to start when cold, and especially at Colorado Spring's 6,187 foot elevation.  The flight engineer starts the engines, and it takes numerous switches, dials, and levers to do so.  And a bit of technique, and lots of patience.  The engines belch smoke when they start, and a ground crew person with fire extinguisher is poised in front of the engines.  From his station, the flight engineer can look out his window and observe the right-side engines as he starts them.  The navigator's window is positioned so the flight engineer can also see the left-side engines.  Once all four engines were started and warmed, the flight engineer gave control to the pilot.  However, as long as those engines are turning there is no rest for the flight engineer; he is constantly monitoring numerous gauges and making minor adjustments.

The takeoff was delightfully noisy, and the big plane eased smoothly into the air.  Our pilot, Mark Novak, made the takeoff and then handed control to our copilot, Debbie King, for the majority of the flight.  As I described above, flight engineer Ben Powers was the hardest-working person in the airplane.

Riding in the B-29 was a great experience.  Historically, the Superfortress was an important weapon in W.W.II, to include dropping the two atomic bombs that brought the war with Japan to a close.  After the war, the B-29 was for several years the only U.S. bomber capable of delivering atomic bombs, making it significant in the early Cold War.