Hello Friends and Family,

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B-29 & P-51

Near the end of my visit with my dad back in March, I noticed a brief article in the paper about two World War II aircraft on display at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Since (as I have mentioned before) my dad was in training to be a fighter pilot at the end of the war, I thought he might be interested in seeing these two old warbirds. He was and off we went.

The bigger of the two planes was a B-29 Superfortress, a four engine propeller-driven heavy bomber which was used exclusively in the Pacific Theater. It was one of the largest aircraft in WWII (in fact, a real challenge to photograph the whole plane), as well as one of the most advanced. It featured a pressurized cabin, an electronic fire-control system and remote-controlled machine-gun turrets.

Fifi, as the plane is known, is the only B-29 still being flown. She is owned by the Commemorative Air Force, an organization dedicated to preserving these vintage aircraft. There is a branch of the CAF in Mesa and I plan to visit soon.

Not only does the CAF preserve these aircraft in airworthy condition, they also offer rides. The rides are a bit pricey (for this retiree's budget) — ranging from $595 in the rear fuselage to $1495 in the bombardier's seat in the nose. But what a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience — maybe when I win the Powerball Lottery.

Remembering that heavy bombers were big, lumbering aircraft, they needed a way to shoo away those pesky enemy fighters. As mentioned above, the B-29 carried remote-controlled machine guns to attempt to protect itself.

Allied fighters would also escort the bombers into Axis territory. Some enemy fighter pilots employed a tactic of attempting to entice the Allied pilots to engage in dogfights and, if successful, opening up additional opportunities for re-enforcements to go after the now relatively defenseless bombers. If you saw the movie Red Tails, it showed the enemy tactics and how the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black squadron in the segregated Army Air Corps, were successful in defending bombers by staying in formation with the heavy aircraft and only attacking the enemy fighters when they came within striking distance.

I imagine that sitting in the aft gunner's position must have felt like a death sentence. It would be a natural target for any attacking enemy fighters — they would aim to take out the "sting" from the bomber's tail to make it easy to attack from the rear.

The B-29 was designed as a high-altitude daytime bomber but was used extensively as a low-altitude nighttime incendiary bomber. It was the primary aircraft used in the firebombing campaign against the Empire of Japan toward the end of WWII. The Enola Gay, which was the bomber that delivered the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, was also a B-29.

As I mentioned above, the B-29 was a huge aircraft for its time. Only by backing up quite a distance and using the widest angle on my zoom lens was I able to capture the entire plane. By the way, those folks gathered under the wing were queued up to tour the interior. We did not — it would have been too difficult for my dad.

The second aircraft on display was a P-51 Mustang, a long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. During WWII, Mustangs were responsible for downing 4,950 enemy aircraft, second only to the carrier-based Grumman F6F Hellcat.

Pilot mark their "kills" with symbols next to the cockpit. Here I was confused since I expect to see German or Japanese insignias. I can only conclude that Lt. Johnson shot down the Mary Poppins squad, Steven Spielberg, Harry Potter and Fred Astaire. He also participated in five bombing runs.

If the war had not ended, and my dad had completed his training, he would have likely flown one of these babies. This day, he could have gotten a ride for the modest sum of $999. Darn — he forgot his wallet.


Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com