by Richard Mallory Allnutt
Today we are pleased to report that the B-29 Super Fortress known as ‘Doc’ made her first post-restoration flight in Wichita, Kansas this morning. Following more than two decades of adventure and hard graft since Tony Mazzolini discovered her at the China Lake Proving Grounds in 1987, the world now has two flying B-29’s!
Under the guidance of her crew, the silvery Super Fortress taxied out in the haze and early morning light to the 12,000′ long runway at McConnell Air Force Base. The flight engineer ran her engines up to takeoff power, flexing her muscles to test their strength. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, but during the pre-flight checks, the crew discovered that the bomb bay doors would not seal properly, so they taxied her back to the start point to check on the problem.
The mechanics got to work on solving the issues, and soon it was time to get going again. The crew started the engines, and B-29 slowly moved back down the runway again, taxiing beyond the sight of the crowd, such was the dip in the terrain. Monitoring temperatures and pressures, the engineer finally gave the pilot the go-ahead to begin the takeoff roll. He released the brakes, and slowly the vintage bomber moved forward, gathering speed as she rolled down the expanse of concrete….
She took off smoothly, and made several circuit of the airfield while Doug Rozendaal flew alongside in the chase plane to visually inspect the airframe for any noticeable issues. And then she pointed her nose back to the airfield and landed safely once more. We will be sure to report more details as they arise.
As a side note, the B-29 was one of the first aircraft to rely heavily upon a flight engineer. The engineer controls the throttle and propeller settings during most stages of flight. He monitors the airplane’s health, and also manages the fuel systems. This allows the pilots to focus their attention on flying, as systems adjustment and monitoring is a full time job. Oddly, the flight engineer has his back to the pilots, and can only get occasional glimpses forward from reflections in his instruments.
Typically, the only time the pilot will touch the throttles is while taxiing, and during the initial stage of the take off run. The flight engineer starts the engines and warms them up. He then helps the flying pilot taxi out to the run-up area. The flight engineer will then test the engines at take-off power, check the magnetos and cycle the props through their speed and pitch settings to make sure all is well. The pilot will taxi out to the runway threshold once these checks are complete, and then set the brakes. The flight engineer slowly brings the engines up to 30” manifold pressure. At which point the pilot releases the brakes, and the bomber begins her take-off roll. The pilot is controlling the throttles during this phase, gently increasing power. Once he senses rudder authority (65-70 mph) he calls out, “Engineer’s Throttles. Set Max Power”. Whereupon the flight engineer will gently push the throttles up to take-off power. This used to be 44” manifold pressure with the original -23 engines, but should be 42” with the new “hybrid” engines (identical to FIFI’s). Once aloft, the flight engineer manages the engines and propellers until the aircraft is back on the ground. The pilot will request throttle adjustments by asking for specific manifold pressure settings or pre-determined flight regimes. A typical call would be “Set power Two Three” (ie. 23” manifold pressure). The shorthand helps prevent confusion between the non-flying pilot (who handles the flaps) and the flight engineer.
Congratulations to Tony Mazzolini, who began this adventure, to the many volunteers who put their hearts and souls into getting to this point, to all who contributed financially and to Doc’s Friends who made completing the restoration project possible. This is a marvelous day for the vintage aviation community worldwide!
WarbirdsNews also wishes to offer our special thanks to Steve Jantz for his marvelous photographs that we have been able to share in our progress reports over the past couple of years.