Thursday, May 31, 2018; Burke Lakefront Airport, 1501 N. Marginal Road: “Doc” a World War II B-29 Superfortress, stopped in Cleveland during its 2018 summer tour. “Doc” is one of two B-29’s still flying.
By Victoria Shea
(Plain Press, July 2018) A rare sight to behold arrived in the warm afternoon of May 31 at Burke Lakefront Airport in the form of “Doc,” the lone survivor of a B-29 bomber group, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
“It was hard to miss,” retired U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Robert Shields explained, having heard “Doc” flying over his residence in Bay Village, Ohio, “There is no missing the purring of radial engines.”
Doc was accompanied into Burke by two other World War II-era warbirds — a B-25J Mitchell Bomber, “Georgie’s Gal” based at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton, Ohio; and a P-51C Red Tail Mustang, “Tuskegee Airmen” based in Red Wing, Minnesota. “Doc” is just one of two airworthy B-29 Superfortresses left flying (the other being “Fifi” based in Addison, Texas).
Glistening with her spit-shine polish in the late afternoon sun on the tarmac behind the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, located inside the airport terminal, one would never imagine that when she was found almost 30-years-ago, “Doc” was a sight for sore eyes.
“Tyres were all dry-rotted and flat, and it has sunk into the sand,” explained a former volunteer and friend of “Doc” while waiting for his chance to board. “It was there and still in one piece, but it was vandalized, windows had been broken, and it had graffiti on it.”
Located in a remote corner of China Lake, a Naval Air Weapons Station in California, it was a challenge to get “Doc” back to her present state. The owner of the B-29, Tony Massolini, of South Euclid, Ohio contacted the U.S. Air Force in search of a B-29 to restore but was informed that all remaining B-29s had been sent to China Lake to be used for aerial bombing practice. Determined, Massolini then reached out to the U.S. Navy, who confirmed the Air Force’s story, stating that they had blown up all the B-29s when they were used for strafing practice.
But luck would be on Massolini’s side when a janitor stationed at China Lake located a lone B-29 in the remote corner of the station, which had “slipped through the cracks.” With this information in hand, Massolini drove out to China Lake and with the base commander, went to locate “Doc.” Upon seeing the airplane, the base commander was quoted as saying, “Son of a gun. I didn’t know this was here.”
After obtaining all needed permissions, Massolini’s next task was to get the B-29 off China Lake’s property. Shutting down the station for a couple of hours, along with a bulldozer and new tyres made from molds located in England, Massolini and his crew pulled the B-29 off U.S. government property and to a small airfield nearby. From there, the plane was disassembled, placed on flatbeds and trucked to Wichita, Kansas to the Boeing plant where she was originally built. The next sixteen years saw volunteers from far and wide across the U.S. arriving to help get “Doc” back to airworthy flying status. It was worth it when in June 2016 “Doc” returned to the skies for her first flight.
Currently out on summer tour, “Doc” is expected to make a minimum of nine stops in five states, with additional tour stops to be added throughout the tour season. “Doc’s Friends” spokesman, Josh Wells said that the mission of the B-29 is history.
“Our mission is to honor the Greatest Generation and connect and educate current and future generations with the rich history of the B-29 as it relates to our nation’s history,” writes Wells on the B-29’s website. But there is hope that somewhere in the future, “Doc” will be able to provide Living History Flight rides in the historic aircraft as well to help enhance the history already being taught.
“Doc” is scheduled to return home sometime in the fall to Wichita, Kansas. In the meantime, those looking for additional information about “Doc” are encouraged to visit www.b29doc.com.