Historic B-29 on Display at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport
March 23, 2016
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  • Queen FIFI can still fly.

    CAF B-29 Superfortress “FiFi” In Lakeland

    The historic Warbird, the only one of its kind in the world, is on display this week at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

    The only remaining B-29 “Flying Superfortress” bomber still flying landed at the airport late Wednesday morning. She’s the last one flying of 3,970 B-29s that were built during World War II.

    The beautiful old behemoth is nicknamed FIFI.

    Philip Pardon, 71, is the B-29’s tour leader. He works for the Commemorative Air Force, a non-profit organization of 12,000 volunteers dedicated to honoring American military history and its majestic warbirds.

    Pardon said FIFI didn’t make the cut for World War II because she was built at the end of July 1945, just before the war ended.

    She was mothballed in California in 1957 and claimed by the Commemorative Air Force in 1971.

    There are 11 seats on the airplane, including some prime front window seats. The plane is difficult at best to move around in.

    “She wasn’t built for comfort,” Pardon said. “She was built for freedom.”

    Lakeland resident Al Herum, 58, is a retired American Airlines pilot who flies for the Commemorative Air Force.

    Herum flew FIFI to Lakeland Wednesday morning from Naples. He calls her “a flying antique.”

    “It rides very well, it’s real stable,” Herum said. He credits that to the “top-notch mechanics” who maintain FIFI. But flying a B-29 isn’t a picnic, he said, because “it’s all muscle.”

    Herum said FIFI goes up only when the weather permits.

    “No clouds, no rain,” Herum said. “We only take her up on nice days. That’s what she deserves. She’s the queen of the Warbird fleet in the United States.”

    The B-29 Superfortress is known as the plane whose missions over Japan helped bring the end of World War II.

    It was built to replace older B-17s and B-24s, with bigger bombing loads and a greater range. In the early 1950s, the B-29 was also flown in the Korean War.

    The main expense for FIFI is her staggering maintenance costs. That’s the reason the Commemorative Air Force charges to see her.

    The ramp tour is $10, $5 for kids 11 to 17. Children 10 and younger are free. FIFI can be seen when she isn’t in the air. She’s at the main terminal through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Ride prices range from $75 to $1,895.

    The Commemorative Air Force has some Warbirds on display near FIFI.

    Rick Rousos can be reached at rick.rousos@theledger.com or 863-802-7509.