The second flight since the restoration of “Doc,” Wichita’s beloved World War II airplane, lasted 52 minutes on Saturday, 45 minutes longer than the first flight in July.
The friends of Doc cheered yet again.
The Wichita-built World War II B-29 Superfortress bomber took off from McConnell Air Force Base on a beautiful Saturday morning at about 10:05 a.m., with 3,000 gallons of aviation fuel, seven excited flight crew members and four prop-driven, 3,600-horsepower engines that made the McConnell tarmac rumble.
A gray-bearded, gray-headed cheering section of volunteers, who gave years of their lives to see this sight, took pictures and video and listened intently to radio traffic between Doc and the ground.
“Doc just jumped off the ground (at take-off),” Mark Novak, the co-pilot, said after the flight.
Charles Tilghman, the pilot, said after the flight that Doc performed beautifully up there – with one exception – and that lovers of aviation owe a debt to those who restored the plane, now one of only two flight-worthy B-29s in the world.
“They are an amazing group who’ve done an outstanding job restoring Doc,” he said. “They are in love with the machine, and we all owe them and the community of Wichita a lot for bringing Doc back.
“I doubt there’s anyone in this community who does not know who Doc is.”
As with the first flight over Wichita in July, mechanical problems cut short this flight. Tilghman radioed his ground crew that the right wheel would not fully retract into the wing shortly after take-off from McConnell.
But instead of immediately landing, as he did last time, Tilghman nudged Doc out over Augusta and environs and flew in circles to give the plane some flight time.
He knew he could safely land the plane and wanted to see what Doc could do.
Back on the ground, he said the clutch in the right wheel assembly was slipping. Fellow flight crew member T.J. Norman, Doc’s restoration program director, said the problem was probably minor and that Doc could be ready to fly again in two weeks, or even sooner.
But Norman conferred with Jim Murphy, the director of Doc’s restoration and flight program, and Murphy said, “Let’s do it right.”
“We’ve taken good care of the airplane so far, so we might as well take the time,” he told the flight crew.
Step by step over time, Norman said, he and Doc’s other restorers have readied Doc to fly for not just minutes, as on Saturday, but for long flights.
The effort is not just about getting an old machine to fly again, said restorer Johnny McPherson. He and the others have met wartime flight crews who flew B-29 bombers, which helped bring the war against Japan to a close in 1945.
“There have been several of these bomber groups, guys in their 80s and 90s, who have come to see Doc as we worked on her, and they rub and touch the aircraft and tell stories,” McPherson said. “They never talked about the bad things that happened to them but only the good and funny things.”
Tilghman and members of the ground crew on Saturday said they likely would come back in two weeks to try for a longer flight.
It’s an honor to fly Doc, Tilghman said. He has been flying since 1960, when he was a 12-year-old Texas kid trading airfield cleanup work for flight time at an airfield near Mexia, Texas.
“You take off knowing you’ve got lots of eyes on you,” he said of flying Doc.
“Your senses are all jacked up, and you are really paying attention.”