Queen FIFI still rules the air.
The historic warbird, the only one of its kind in the world, is headed to Leesburg International Airport today after being on display for five days at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.
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 nonprofit 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.”
Al Herum, 58, is a retired American Airlines pilot who flies for the Commemorative Air Force. He flies FIFI and 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.”
FIFI’s visit will mark Leesburg’s third attempt this month to get the Superfortress. The first appearance was postponed because of a small maintenance issue that kept the plane grounded in Sarasota, and the second rescheduled day was too windy for the plane to fly into Leesburg.
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.”
Kim Pardon, public information officer for the Commemorative Air Force, said FIFI’s appearance in Leesburg is by popular demand after the first two failed tries.
“We have had this overwhelming response of people calling,” Pardon said. “We have been just inundated with calls of people wanting to know when we were coming back. We thought we better show up.”
The B-29 Superfortress is known as the plane whose missions over Japan helped bring the end of World War II.
With bigger bombing loads and a greater range, it was built to replace older B-17s and B-24s. 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.
FIFI will be parked near Sun Air Aviation. The ramp tour is $10 for adults and $5 for kids 11 to 17. Children 10 and younger are free.
Ride prices range from $75 to $1,895. Reservations can be made at www.AirPowerTour.org.
FIFI will arrive at around 11 a.m. Monday and she will be open to the public from noon until 5 p.m. On Tuesday, people are welcome to visit from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.