World War II B-29 bomber 'Doc' touches down in Iowa
By THOMAS FRIESTAD | The Gazette | Published: July 15, 2019
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — What some might call a monotonous trip down an Iowa interstate becomes exponentially less so when made in a World War II era aircraft.
"Doc," one of the only two World War II Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers still flying, visited Eastern Iowa Airport this week, one of several stops on its way to Oshkosh, Wis.
The plane was present for an open house with upward of 1,000 Collins Aerospace employees and family members Thursday, and looped around Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Friday during a half-hour ticketed flight with nine passengers.
Before the flight, a six-person crew — including two pilots, three scanners and a flight engineer — underwent about 30 minutes of testing to ensure Doc’s flight controls and four propeller engines were operating smoothly.
Then, while cruising 200 miles per hour at around 2,000 feet, passengers could wander around the front and back of the plane, and gaze at landmarks such as Kinnick Stadium from the same glass dome a gunner would have used in lining up fire over 70 years ago.
Doc was built in 1944 as one of 1,644 B-29 bombers manufactured in Boeing’s Wichita, Kan., plant and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps in March 1945 — too near the end of World War II to see combat.
The aircraft became part of a radar calibration squadron in 1951, with each plane named after a character from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and was retired to the Mojave Desert in 1956 for use as a Navy ballistic missile target.
Seven flatbed semi trailers hauled the corroded plane’s pieces back to Wichita in 2000, where hundreds of local volunteers worked an estimated 450,000 hours through July 2016 to restore it to flight.
During the $4 million project, then-Rockwell Collins helped restore Doc’s avionics equipment, contributing flight instruments for heading and altitude systems, said Josh Wells, general manager and executive director of the not-for-profit Doc’s Friends, which owns the plane
Doc now flies across the country, participating in 12 to 15 air shows and 25 to 30 ticketed flights each year, Wells said.
“We want people to be able to see it, touch it, feel it, ride in it,” he said. “We restored the aircraft to honor the men and women who serve our nation and the Greatest Generation. We don’t want people in future generations to forget about the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation.”
Wells said his not-for-profit often will hold events with World War II veterans so they can revisit what, to many, is a familiar sight.
“They come up and they touch our airplane and they’re automatically transitioned and transformed back to their 18-year-old selves. ... It’s almost like a Disney movie,” he said.
“They smile and tears come down their face because they’re happy to see the aircraft or they’re remembering their colleagues and those other war heroes who have gone before them.”
Mark Novak, chief pilot for Doc and a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Air Force, said he enjoys the uniqueness of flying the B-29 bomber as well as the reaction from young visitors, such as those at the Collins Aerospace open house.
“One of the kids got up there, looked out the front and he goes, ‘This is the Millennium Falcon,’” Novak said. “Those little kids, they may not know anything about the plane but someday, they may find grandpa or great grandpa’s medals or something from World War II.”
This week marked Doc’s first ticketed flight from Cedar Rapids and second visit, following a Rockwell Collins open house about two years ago. FIFI, the other B-29 Superfortress bomber still flying, made visits to Eastern Iowa Airport in 2012 and 2015.