WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A B-29 Superfortress bomber that has been undergoing restoration in Wichita for more than a decade after being rescued from the California desert is expected to be in the air by year’s end, nearly half a century after it was last used during the Korean War.
The giant bomber, dubbed “Doc” after being assigned to a squadron of eight bombers named after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, will be one of only two restored B-29s in flying condition when the restoration is completed, The Wichita Eagle ( ) reported.
The plane, which is 99 feet long with a wingspan of 141 feet, was built in 1944 inside Boeing Wichita’s Plant II. It was built too late to fly bombing missions during World War II, though it eventually served as a radar trainer during the Korean War — but then it fell into disrepair in the Mojave Desert, where for 42 years it served as a sanctuary for birds and other desert creatures.
It also was used by the Navy as target practice.
“Thank God for the Navy. They kept missing,” said Tony Mazzolini, president of the U.S. Aviation Museum, who rescued the deteriorating plane with the help of the Ohio museum.
Mazzolini formed a plan to restore the aircraft and contacted Jeff Turner, then an executive at Boeing in Wichita.
“He said, ‘If you can get this plane to Wichita, we can help you get this plane in the air,’” Mazzolini said.
The plane arrived in Wichita by truck on May 19, 2000. The massive restoration project began later that year but went on hiatus for a few years because of the poor economy and a lack of hangar space.
But a group of business leaders and aviation enthusiasts formed a nonprofit, Doc’s Friends, and acquired the plane from Mazzolini in 2013. Boeing donated a military hangar in south Wichita where the restoration could be completed.
Turner, who retired last year as CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, is now chairman of the Dock’s Friends board. He told members of the Wichita Aero Club at a luncheon on Monday that it will take $750,000 to $1 million to complete restoration.
Volunteers still must install the plane’s fourth and final engine, install avionics and fuel cells, and check all electrical systems and flight controls. The group also must obtain an airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.
In addition to finishing the airplane, Doc’s Friends must find a permanent home for the plane — along with money to build a hangar and maintain the plane. Turner said the plan is to keep the plane in Wichita, where it was originally built.
Building a hangar will cost $3 million to $9 million, depending on its size and scope, with the first choice of location being Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, he said.
“We’re not sure yet what really makes sense,” he said.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle,