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‘Doc’s Friends’ tackles restoration of vintage B-29

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, March 11, 2013, at 11:44 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013, at 7:07 a.m.

A project to restore “Doc,” a vintage B-29 Superfortress, to flying condition has been resurrected by a group of Wichitans called “Doc’s Friends.”

The project to restore the bomber, built by Boeing Wichita, has been on hold for several years, the victim of a poor economy and lack of hangar space.

Now the goal is to complete the plane’s restoration, secure a permanent home in Wichita for it and operate the plane as a flying museum to honor those who secured our freedom, said Jeff Turner, CEO and president of Spirit AeroSystems who is chairman of the Doc’s Friends board of directors.

“We’re all about putting more …. energy on getting Doc restored and getting Doc back in the air,” Turner said Monday during a news conference.

The effort was restarted after a group of business leaders and aviation enthusiasts formed a nonprofit organization and bought the plane. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Tony Mazzolini rescued the B-29 from the Mojave Desert in California in 1998, where it had spent 42 years as a sanctuary for birds and other desert creatures and had been used for target practice. It was brought in pieces to Wichita in 2000, where a group of volunteers began the massive restoration job.

Now, the plane has moved from a storage hangar to a Boeing military hangar along the east side of Oliver. Boeing is donating the hangar for two years, which gives the group two years to finish the restoration and find a home for Doc.

Project leaders figure completing the restoration and getting the plane in the air will require $3 million to $5 million more in donations. The board will work to raise funds and recruit additional volunteers.

“So if any of you have just come into a large amount of money and would like to donate it …,” Turner said, jokingly.

Besides Turner, board members include Charlie Chandler, Jack Pelton, Steve Clark, Lynn Nichols, Brad Gorsuch, Vic McMullen and Ron Ryan.

The bomber was designed and built in 1944 inside Boeing Wichita’s Plant II and was one of a squadron of eight airplanes named for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The B-29 was the first bomber to have a pressurized crew compartment, computerized weapons system, remote-controlled guns, advanced radar for bombing and navigation, and an electronic fire suppression system.

Connie Palacioz said she was 18 when she started work in Wichita in May 1943 riveting B-29 nose sections. She said she rode a bus from Newton that brought workers to and from the plant.

“I wanted to help the war effort,” Palacioz said while standing near the shiny aluminum aircraft inside the Boeing hangar.

Now 88, Palacioz is a volunteer on the restoration project.

“I’m glad I can do it,” she said.

Turner praised Mazzolini’s vision to obtain and restore the historic bomber.

“Tony Mazzolini is the savior of Doc,” Turner said. “If Tony hadn’t caught a love for this airplane and a vision for the last restorable B-29 on earth that we know of … the airplane you see behind us would have been a pile of scrap metal.”

Mazzolini said that he may have led the effort, but it took a lot of people to get the project to this point. Now is the time to complete the project, he said.

“A lot of us are getting up there,” Mazzolini joked.

To finish the restoration , skilled volunteers are needed. Engines must be overhauled and installed, the trailing edge of the right wing must be replaced, fuel tanks must be built and installed, and a variety of other work must be completed, such as sheet metal, electrical, instrumentation and the polishing of the airplane.

When the B-29 was originally built, parts weren’t corrosion proof because the planes weren’t built to last, said volunteer Max Parkhurst. Restored parts are corrosion proofed before they’re put back onto the airplane, he said.

“The airplane is better than new,” Parkhurst said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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