Four volunteers on Monday morning attached a nameplate to the Wichita-built B-29 Bomber known as Doc, one of the last steps in achieving its Federal Aviation Administration airworthiness certificate.
The volunteers — Ervin Berger, Connie Palacioz, Loretta Shark and Dan Wimberly — were some of the earliest volunteers on the effort to restore the World War II airplane to flying condition.
“We’ve been waiting for 16 years to put it on,” Berger said. “I’m just glad to see it done.”
The nameplate, or aircraft data plate, is required to be in the airplane before it can receive its airworthiness certificate. It’s akin to a VIN tag on an automobile, said Jim Murphy, restoration program manager for Doc’s Friends, the nonprofit group that is restoring the airplane.
“It’s the official piece in the airplane that says what it is, what the tail number is,” Murphy said. “It’s one of the things that is a requirement to be in there.”
Murphy said FAA inspectors have been out to inspect Doc “and asked us to do a few more things to it.”
“Our plan is to invite the FAA back to the airplane within the next few weeks,” and maybe shortly thereafter receive the airworthiness certificate.
“We sure hope so,” he said.
Even then it could take several more weeks before Doc can take flight. Murphy said once Doc is deemed airworthy, volunteers will begin another process to seek approval from the Pentagon to fly to and from McConnell Air Force Base’s runway. Doc’s current home is on South Oliver at Air Capital Flight Line, formerly Boeing Wichita, which sits on the west side of McConnell’s runway.
He said the permitting process could last a month, maybe longer.
“We can’t begin the official (permitting) process without the airworthiness certificate,” Murphy said. “It will be a deal where until we get that permit, we’re kind of stuck in place.”
But all that red tape didn’t take away from what was happening Monday morning.
Volunteers, including Murphy, said attaching the nameplate was a milestone in the restoration.
Palacioz, who at 18 worked on the B-29 production line and riveted Doc’s nose section when it was built in 1944, said she “never thought I would see this day. It’s been a long time.”
Loretta Shark has been a volunteer since 2002. She worked on the airplane alongside her husband, John, who died in July 2013. “I’m representing the (volunteers) who have passed away,” she said. “There’s quite a few that we lost.”
Wimberly was the last of the volunteers to attach the final rivet to Doc’s nameplate, which was placed near the flight engineer’s panel in the cockpit.
Wimberly, who works in tooling at Spirit AeroSystems, said he was a reluctant volunteer when Doc rolled into the former Boeing Wichita in pieces on flatbed trucks from California.
“Initially, I didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” said Wimberly, who was working for Boeing Wichita at the time. “It was a pile of junk.”
But a day after the airplane arrived in Wichita, one of the Doc volunteers asked Wimberly if he could help design a tool to remove the B-29’s nose wheel gear. “It called for me … to create something they had no access to,” he said.
That job, as well as the camaraderie among volunteers working on Doc “just hooked me,” he said.
Since then, he vowed to two Doc volunteers who have since died — C.C. Briscoe and John Shark — that he would do everything in his power to help make Doc fly again.
“Putting that tag on today represents the fulfillment of a promise to more than one man who has passed away,” Wimberly said.