Whenever I wander into the World War II hangar at the Museum of Aviation, I always walk over to look at the B-29 Superfortress. The plane is intriguing to me, not just because of the history of the whole fleet of B-29s used in World War II and Korea, but because the history of our particular plane, prior to the mid-1950s, was lost. We don’t know what journey our B-29 had during that period of time. I stand in awe of the plane and wonder where all it has been.
The B-29 was a long range replacement bomber for the B-17 Flying Fortress. It was a heavy propeller-driven bomber powered by four engines. Overall, 3,970 of the planes were built. Of those, 668 were built at the Bell Aircraft Co. plant in Marietta. The museum’s B-29 was built at Bell.
Although the B-29 entered combat in June 1944, it was not used in combat in Europe. Instead it was diverted to the Pacific, where it was well-suited to fly long distances, and the plane could reach an altitude of up to 31,850 feet. It was difficult for the Japanese to attack these planes at such a high altitude.
The B-29 was the first bomber to have a pressurized cabin. It had remote control guns. It could carry 20,000 pounds of bombs. The B-29 had advanced radar equipment and avionics, but it also carried the tried and true Norden bombsight.
This type of bombsight, also used by other American bombers, revolutionized the precision of a bomb drop. It did not work well in cloudy or rainy weather, so it was best suited for conditions when the crew could see the target. The crosshairs used in the bombsight were human hair.
A quote about the Norden I read recently said that “the Nordon bombsight did for precision bombing what Windows software did for computers.”
The Superfortress was used in the many bombings of Tokyo. However, the most famous bombings during World War II were, of course, the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. These bombings ended the war in the Pacific as Japan surrendered shortly after the hits on these two cities by the United States.
The B-29 Enola Gay dropped the first bomb, which was called “Little Boy.” The second bomb, called “Fat Man,” was dropped by a B-29 called Bockscar.
During World War II, Robins Air Force Base was a repair facility for B-29s. Robins became a long term storage facility for many of the B-29s until they were called up for service during the Korean War.
Our B-29, which is now up on pedestals, is an imposing plane in size. Visitors can walk under the plane and see the open bomb bay. Alongside the plane is a Norden bombsight and a huge bomb shape even larger than “Fat Man.”
Further down in the World War II hangar on a lower floor is a B-29 cockpit that is being restored by one of the museum’s volunteers, Bob Denison. Visitors can look through the windows into the cockpit and see what it must have been like flying in the Superfortress.
The B-29 was a special plane that served its purpose well. It was taken out of service in the 1960s. The Enola Gay is on display at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, and the Bockscar is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Come see our B-29. It is impressive. I will always wonder, though, where all it has been.