Aviation fans are getting a close look at some historic World War II planes at the Aurora Municipal Airport.
The Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour event began Thursday. It will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
One of the stars of the show is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “FIFI,” which is the only one of its kind currently flying.
“I couldn’t wait to see her. It’s a pretty big bird,” Marine Corps veteran Gerald Hosler said Thursday.
Seeing the plane brought out some strong emotions.
“I think of the men who flew these planes and didn’t return home,” the 82-year-old lifelong Auroran said.
The B-29 Superfortress began active service in 1944. Those that toured inside the aircraft got to see a navigation map signed by the late Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the U.S. Army Air Forces navigator of the Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“This is an extremely rare World War II bomber,” Ret. Air Force Master Sgt. Brad Pilgrim said. “It is a flying memorial to the men and women who built and flew the aircraft.”
Pilgrim flew missions as a loadmaster on C-17s and C-130 cargo planes when he was deployed during his years of service from 1992 to 2002, including in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He now is general manager of the B-29/B-24 squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, which brings the historic planes to locations around the country, with a volunteer crew.
The B-29 always draws a lot of attention, he said.
“We see every range of emotion when people see the airplane. There are people who never thought they would ever see one again,” said Pilgrim.
The Commemorative Air Force found the plane in 1971 at the U.S. Navy Proving Ground at China Lake, California, where it was being used as a missile target, Pilgrim said. The airplane was restored and flew for more than 30 years until 2006. It underwent a four-year restoration which included replacing all four engines with new custom-built hybrid engines. She began flying again in 2010, Pilgrim said.
This particular B-29 came off the assembly line in 1945 when the war was almost over. It was used as a military trainer until 1954, he said.
The plane burns 400 gallons of gas per hour. and it costs $10,000 an hour to fly the aircraft, he said.
Along with the B-29 Superfortress at the airport are a P-51 Mustang, C-45 Expeditor, T-6 Texan and PT-13 Stearman.
Beth Penesis, Aurora Municipal Airport interim airport manager, said airport officials are excited about being part of the tour.
“These grand World War II planes bring all of us a little closer to our nation’s rich past,” Penesis said.
Crowds started settling in Thursday afternoon shortly after the gates opened. One of the crowd was 82-year-old Gene Pfaff of Newark, who took photos of the B-29 Superfortress.
“I am nutty about aviation,” he said.
People at the event can be spectators or active participants. Tickets for rides start at $570 for the B-29 Superfortress and $1,795 for the P-51 Mustang. To schedule a ride go to www.airpowersquadron.org.
Pilgrim said the event is a way to preserve the memories and legends of World War II.
“It’s a lot of fun to fly the aircraft when nobody is shooting at you,” he said. “The guys who did this in World War II did it for real. They had to deal with enemy action on their missions and the operational issues.
“We get to bask in the glory for what our veterans did,” he said. “They gave us the freedom to be able to do this.”
Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News