Aviation Icon Returns: Fifi Takes Flight

The following article was written and photographed by Chronic Wanderlust contributors James Pritchard and Jacob Pelham in Midland, Texas.

Young child enjoying the Air Show. (Photo: James Pritchard)

The creator of Chronic Wanderlust once said that using the phrase “Hidden Gem” is a cliché. I hate to say it but he’s correct. But sometimes there really is no other way to describe something that truly is unknown to most people. In Midland, Texas, a city known mainly for oil and natural gas production is the hometown of a few people such as Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Spud Webb, George W. Bush, Matthew McConaughey and my personal favorite, “FiFi”.

Boeing B29 Superfortress with bomb doors open, Japan's worst fear. (Photo: James Pritchard)

Nestled at Midland International Airport in Texas is the headquarters to the Commemorative Air Force (formerly known as the Confederate Air Force) which houses the world’s only flying B29 Superfortress, named “FiFi”. I absolutely love this airplane. Each year the CAF holds an annual Air Show on Runway 10 at Midland International and for the most of the show, “FiFi” is a fan favorite. They will usually invite special air teams such as the Navy Blue Angels, Canadian Snowbirds or the Air Force Thunderbirds. The CAF has the only flying B29 in the world.

P-51 Mustang of the famoue Tuskegee Airmen

In 2006, after performing the annual air show the mechanics were performing routine maintenance on the plane and noticed metal shavings in the engine oil. The world once again, had no B29s that were airworthy. These engines are huge piston radial supercharged powerplants, and there are four of them. Immediately the plane was grounded by the CAF and FAA. The CAF contacted Boeing and spent millions of dollars and about four years to restore the plane and had some completely new engines cast, machined and assembled.

On August 5th, 2010, I was loading my luggage into CW contributor Jacob Pelham’s truck so he could give me a ride to the airport so I could leave for Europe. Above my head I noticed a familiar sound I hadn’t heard in a few years. The rumbling sound of four radial engines on a literal flying piece of history as “FiFi” flew over the driveway on its test flight. The B29 was airworthy and once again cleared by the CAF and FAA for flight. The new engines did not come with the original superchargers from the old engines; therefore, “FiFi” in her current form cannot fly at extremely high altitude. That’s ok though; it is normally used for air shows and doesn’t need to fly at high altitudes.

Taxiing down the tarmac at Midland International Airport for the 2010 Air Show (Photo: James Pritchard)

This year in Midland the CAF held their AirSho for 2010 on October 9th and 10th. The AirSho is usually geared toward reenacting history for enthusiasts, veterans and anyone wanting to learn about history of aerial warfare. The special acts invited this year included a Beech 18 and the world’s only jet powered sail plane (both of which performed night acts) an Extra 300 stunt plane, a pair of F15 Eagles, a pair of F16 Vipers and a B1B Lancer supersonic bomber. Also on display inside the CAF museum is the world’s largest collection of authentic nose art.

Texas (Photo: Jacob Pelham)

The AirSho usually follows a schedule in which gates open early in the morning and people are allowed to walk around on the tarmac and In hangars where aircraft is displayed from World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and some modern military aircraft such as a C5 Galaxy, C130, C17, F14, AH64 Apache and a few others. Around Noon the show kicks off with flyovers of World War II aircraft preparing to reenact the bombing of Pearl Harbor using real Japanese Zeros, reenactments of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, and a reenactment of the only time there was aggressive use of nuclear force with the B29 Superfortress. After those acts are performed, the special acts begin including the F15s, F16s, B1B Lancer, The Fina Extra 300s stunt plane piloted by Fina’s Jan Collmer, the Beech 18 and the jet powered sail plane. At 5:00 the CAF held a retro USO style concert featuring patriotic songs reminiscent of World War II. At the end of the concert the sun was nearly set and people started to gather off the taxiway again to view the night show featuring the jet powered Super Salto Sail Plane piloted by Bob Carlton and the Beech 18 as they perform their aerial acrobatics.

Low altitude fly-over (Photo: Jacob Pelham)

The City of Midland and the CAF are proud to have the only flying B29 in the world. Rides in “FiFi” can be purchased for $595 for a thirty minute flight around Midland in the cargo/bomb area or for $995 in the front of the plane with pilots and bomb specialist. Everyone can appreciate this plane whether you are an aircraft enthusiast or not. My favorite thing about it is when I hear the rumble of it flying on the horizon, or when I see it take to the skies from Midland International I know that I am witnessing something truly great. I tip my hat to Boeing, the CAF and the people who spent countless hours working hard to make this once again, the world’s only Flying B29.

2010 Air Show at Night (Photo: James Pritchard)

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