The Wichita-built B-29 bomber known as “Doc” could be airborne before summer’s end.
Friday marked another milestone along the vintage airplane’s journey to the skies as the nonprofit group Doc’s Friends announced the acceptance of an airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Several dozen members of Doc’s Friends and other supporters were present for a ceremony Friday afternoon at the World War II aircraft’s hangar at Air Capital Flight Line, the grounds of the former Boeing Wichita complex.
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“The biggest thing is how important this airplane is to history,” said Jeff Turner, board chairman for Doc’s Friends. “The light of freedom was growing dimmer (during World War II), and the men and women of our nation rose up and secured our freedom. I don’t want us to ever forget that.”
The certificate was one of the final hurdles in getting the plane off the ground, which could happen in the next few weeks, Turner said. The group will now seek permission to operate “Doc” at McConnell Air Force Base.
Jim Murphy, program manager for the restoration project, said Friday’s announcement came 16 years to the day after the pieces of what is now “Doc” were brought to Wichita on flatbed trucks from California.
Turner, the former CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, thanked the many who have helped with the restoration process over the years – 26 have since died, he said – and noted that an estimated 350,000 volunteer hours have been contributed to the restoration.
Tony Mazzolini, who discovered “Doc” on a bombing range in California’s Mojave Desert in 1987, traveled from his home in Cleveland for the ceremony. Mazzolini said he originally thought it would take only two or three years to restore the four-engine plane once it was brought to Wichita.
“I’ve been involved with this for about 30 years,” Mazzolini said. “It has been much more difficult than I originally thought, but it’s all been worth it.
“I wanted to help preserve our aviation history in America, and I wanted to keep the memories of that time period alive.”
The gathering Friday featured a who’s who of the surviving “Doc” restoration team, including Connie Palacioz, who as a teenager worked on the B-29 production line and riveted “Doc’s” nose section before it rolled off the assembly line in March 1945.
“This group of people is so neat,” said volunteer Max Parkhurst of Wichita. “These people have been working together for so long toward a common goal.
“I think the ones who aren’t with us any longer are peeking over the clouds and probably giving each other high fives.”
The 84-year-old Parkhurst, a former Boeing employee, was one of several people Turner singled out as being integral to the restoration project.
“This is unbelievable,” Parkhurst said. “I can’t wait to fly it.”