B-29's return sparks another round in debate between lawmaker, Commemorative Air Force
Midland Reporter-Telegram, Texas
MIDLAND, Texas — The world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress, “FiFi,” returned to Midland this week to a clash over her permanent home.
At issue is whether the Commemorative Air Force, which announced in May the decision to relocate only its headquarters to a larger metropolitan area, lived up to an agreement to construct a hangar to house the B-29 in exchange for donations and state and federal transportation dollars.
An outspoken state Rep. Tom Craddick said the CAF broke a commitment when it moved the permanent location of “FiFi” to Cavanaugh Air Museum in Addison, a Dallas suburb.
Stephan C. Brown, CAF CEO and president, said World War II aircraft, which tours the country as part of a flying exhibit, was on display in Midland for three months — more than any other location — over the past 12 months and that the organization is meeting requirements for financial support.
The city, which executed the Texas Department of Transportation funding agreement on behalf of the CAF, is addressing compliance issues, according to Sara Higgins, Midland’s public information officer.
“The CAF’s intention to move its headquarters brought questions to light regarding the possible impact of the B-29’s absence on our terms of funding from the Texas Department of Transportation for the World War II hangar that was built with the purpose of housing the aircraft,” Higgins said in a prepared statement last month. “Anytime we receive federal or state funding with a third party beneficiary, we look to that third party to remedy any situation of their doing that may cause compliance issues under the agreement.”
Here’s a timeline of how the CAF received funding to construct the hanger:
— In December 2002, the city applied for the Transportation Enhancement Program grant “for the project which is briefly described as the construction of a display hangar to exhibit WWII ground transportation vehicles and the only flying B-29 in the world at the Commemorative Air Force Complex at the Midland International Airport,” according to the advanced funding agreement.
— In June 2006, after the city executed the agreement, the CAF was given the greenlight to build what it later called the George H.W. and Barbara Bush Commemorative Center for the B-29.
— In January 2008, an airport journal reported that Cavanaugh Air Museum offered to donate $1.2 million for an engine overhaul project to house the B-29 with its B-24 in Addison, where a squadron is entrusted with the operation and maintenance of the two rare bombers. Brown called this donation a “heart transplant” that allowed “FiFi” to fly more than 400 flight hours and tour nearly 100 locations nationwide since her return to flight in 2010.
Brown said in a prepared statement Thursday that “home” is a term used for the hangar in Midland and CAF locations throughout the country, but because the B-29 is part of the CAF’s flying museum, its rightful place is on tour.
“To impact the most Americans possible, it only makes sense with historical artifacts such as flying airplanes that they go on ‘tour’ around the country,” he said. “Having a ‘home’ or base of operations does not mean that it must reside in that place forever, as this would be a disservice to the American people.”
Still, Craddick worries about contract between the city and TxDOT, which states that if Midland does not fulfill its contractual obligations and fails to remedy any breach of contract, it could be responsible for “all direct and indirect project costs as identified by the state’s cost accounting system,” the advanced funding agreement states.
“I think members of the public are well within their rights to question the current assurances that the proposed move of CAF headquarters is in the community’s best interests, especially given the overwhelming financial support that Midland and the Permian Basin have provided the facility,” he said.
“FiFi” will undergo scheduled maintenance and be available for viewing and ground tours at the George H.W. and Barbara Bush Commemorative Center through Sept. 17. Autumn Vest, director of the CAF Airpower Museum, said the aircraft will be back for this year’s annual AirSho from Oct. 12-13.
“We are excited to have ‘FiFi’ back in the Permian Basin to kick off the fall AirSho season,” Vest said. “Seeing the B-29 in the hangar is always a lot of fun for our visitors. The Midland-Odessa community has been a strong supporter of this rare airplane, and it will be great to have her back in the museum.”