The Seattle Museum of Flight’s meticulous B-29 restoration has returned a lot of the veteran bomber’s controls to working order.
Given its location on historic Boeing Discipline, it’s not stunning that Seattle’s Museum of Flight displays all kinds of Boeing plane. Amongst its newest restorations is one other Boeing product, a combat-veteran B-29 Superfortress. The shiny new bomber, serial no. 44-69729, rolled out of the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kan., on New Yr’s Day 1945. Accepted by the U.S. Military Air Forces on January 4, the brand new Superfortress had its “handle” prominently displayed on the broad, tall vertical stabilizer: a black “T” for the 498th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) above a sq. for the 73rd Bomb Wing and the quantity 54 because the 54th plane assigned to the 875th Squadron.
T Sq. 54’s first mission, on the night time of March 9-10, was a low-level incendiary raid on Tokyo that burned 16 sq. miles of town and marked a change in techniques for the Twentieth Air Pressure bombers. Over the following a number of weeks T54 flew missions over Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya to mark targets upfront of the primary bomber stream and took part in assaults. Throughout a Might 23 night time raid, an anti-aircraft shell set the no. 1 engine on hearth, however the B-29 made it again on the opposite three. On August 8, whereas the radioactive fires have been nonetheless burning in Hiroshima, T54 flew its thirty seventh and last mission to industrial targets in Yawata.
T Sq. 54 drops its payload throughout certainly one of 37 fight missions it flew over Japan in 1945. (The Museum of Flight)
Through the Chilly Warfare the veteran bomber was despatched again to Boeing’s Wichita plant for conversion as a KB-29 aerial tanker. At Biggs Air Pressure Base in Texas, no. 729 was a part of Strategic Air Command’s ninety fifth Bomb Wing, flying missions to the UK. In 1956, after 11 years of service, it was lastly retired from the Air Pressure and given to the Navy.
Transported to the Weapons Testing Heart at Naval Air Station China Lake, excessive within the California desert, 729 joined a number of different B-29s as bombing targets for naval aviators. They’d little luck in hitting the outdated veteran. Within the Nineteen Seventies the Air Pressure, realizing there have been few Superfortresses left, ordered a cease to utilizing them as targets. By the early Nineteen Eighties 729 was among the many final salvageable wartime B-29s left. In 1986 the dilapidated bomber was trucked in items to Lowry Air Pressure Base in Colorado, the place it underwent its first restoration.
In 1993, with Lowry designated for closure, the Museum of Flight started negotiations geared toward restoring 729 to its unique look. Retired AT&T engineer Dale Thompson ultimately oversaw the undertaking.
Thompson mentioned the bomber was in dangerous form when Lowry first obtained it. “The aluminum pores and skin was very weathered, a few of the home windows have been damaged, so the desert mud had blown in and coated all the things,” he famous. “The tires have been all flat and cracked. The engines have been frozen, with swimming pools of strong oil within the nacelles. All of the wiring and cabling was gone or degraded. The wartime bombing gear was gone, changed by the air tanker gear. The management surfaces are material over an aluminum body, and in spite of everything these years sitting within the solar at China Lake they have been nothing greater than shreds.”
A view of the command pilot’s place and dealing Norden bombsight. (The Museum of Flight)
Lowry restored the outside and repaired the injury, however what Thompson and his workforce confronted was much more daunting. The Superfortress was in impact an enormous metallic jigsaw puzzle with dozens of lacking items, a few of which not existed. Uncommon wartime armament, radar, navigation, communications and bombing gear needed to be discovered or machined from unique 1944 specs. All 4 engines needed to be stripped down and rebuilt, together with the hydraulics, devices, flight controls, and oxygen and interphone methods.
A number of hundred volunteers gave their time to the outdated bomber. “We had ex-USAF personnel, individuals who labored at Boeing and loads of of us who simply supplied their effort and time,” reported Thompson. Boeing opened their archives to the undertaking, permitting the workforce to repeat any drawings, diagrams and images they wanted.
“The cockpit is about 90 p.c full,” mentioned Thompson. “Through the battle the interior pores and skin was simply naked aluminum, however in any respect the crew stations it was insulated and coated with cotton material. All of the cotton material is in place now. The tunnel by the bomb bay is lined too. We now have the Norden bombsight and it really works. We had it operating and even an hour after it was turned off, the gyros have been nonetheless spinning. Stunning equipment. It seems brand-new.
A have a look at the flight engineer’s station, which is located simply aft of the copilot going through backward. (The Museum of Flight)
“We had machinists who custom-made components from unique Boeing drawings. Syd Baker constructed bomb racks from scratch in his storage. All of the instrument panels and labels are there, and their surfaces have been performed with the correct black end. It seems completely new.
“The management cabling has been changed,” continued Thompson. “The pulleys and guides are excellent and so they function the management surfaces. The command radios do work. Some licensed ham operators have been on the workforce. We had two wartime pilots within the B-17 and B-29 and instructed them to speak and simulate a mission. They have been so blissful to make use of these radios once more.”
Thompson mentioned the workforce labored a cope with Travis Air Pressure Base to wrangle up some important components. “It’s the one B-29 on the earth the place all 5 turrets work,” he proudly famous. “We invited a B-29 gunner to come back on board. He settled into his outdated seat on the gunsight and mentioned, ‘I want I might hearth these infants once more.’ So I instructed him, ‘Go forward. It really works.’ This man takes the handgrips and twists it round. The turret turns and the weapons elevate. He was overjoyed, similar to a child. Then I instructed him to fireside the weapons. He did, and this chattering roar made him bounce,” Thompson laughed. “We had this recorded sound of the .50s firing when he pulled the set off. He was smiling from ear to ear.”
Right this moment the revitalized veteran bomber is on show within the museum’s Aviation Pavilion. You’ll be able to take a 360-degree digital tour of the B-29’s immaculate inside at museumofflight.org.
This text appeared within the January 2021 problem of Aviation Historical past. To subscribe click on right here!