Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Visit to Fifi, The World's Only Flying B-29

Edwin Duty was a mechanic in Salinas, CA in the 1940’s.  He was newly married with the outset of World War II.  With a skill set that was highly sought after, he was drafted into military service even though his age at the time would have normally excluded him. 

Through many trials, including basic training in Florida, he was eventually assigned to the Army Air Force, where he worked on the Boeing B-29, the Super fortress as a mechanic.  He achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Army Air Force, serving in the 10th Maintenance Battalion.  The 769th Bombing Squadron, 462nd Group was stationed in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, British India.  They flew over “The Hump,” the Himalayas, to China. 

I have heard a few stories about Edwin Duty and the time he spent in India and China.  Although he never spoke much about his time there, there are little bits and pieces that can be placed together about this mechanic who serviced one particular B-29.

There is now only one flying, operational B-29 left in the world, and she is called “Fifi.”  After World War II, she eventually made her way to the China Lakes Range in California, where she was used as a bombing target.  In 2010, she was fitted with engines form another type of airplane, and now she goes on two month tours of the country.

On the Vigil of the Feast of St. Joseph, our family was blessed with the opportunity to see Fifi fly and land at Camarillo Airport, about an hour north of Los Ángeles.  After Holy Mass for Passion Sunday, we got ready, and made our way down to Camarillo, about a four drive.  Camarillo is the Southern California base for the Commemorative Air Force, a group that has as its mission to preserve antique aircraft.  Fifi surely is an antique, as she will turn 68 years old this year.  She rolled off the assembly line on the 31st of July, 1945.

It was a nice pleasant drive on over to Camarillo, home to the Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Los Ángeles, and nearby in Simi Valley is the Ronald Reagan Library. 

From about Camarillo on, it seems like it is all strip malls and auto dealers until you reach San Clemente two hours later.  We had a room with a balcony, and it had a nice view  of the very busy Highway 101.  Traffic just seemed to be going on all day and night. 

Monday came, and we got ready for Fifi.  The CAF website said that Fifi would be getting in around Noon, and that it would be ready for viewing around 1400hr.  We had a quick lunch at Costco, and then made our way on over to Camarillo Airport.  We got a spot on a side street by the runway and waited for Fifi.

And waited.

And waited. 

And waited. 

We called the CAF at the airport, and they informed us that Fifi was indeed running late, about 2 and a half hours late.  It was like waiting for a regular flight.  We had a laptop, so we watched Rifftrax shorts to pass the time.  People who knew Fifi would be coming were milling about, some with rather nice lenses on their cameras.

Just about everyone in our family has sharp eyesight.  At around 1438hrs. they could spot this HUGE plane with several smaller planes surrounding it. 

It was Fifi!

Then we could hear the roar of the engines.   Gradually, we could see that Fifi has an escort of various fighter planes like British Spitfires, and American P-51 Mustangs. 

It was a magnificent sight!  It overflew us going west, and then circled off in the distance.  About 20 minutes later, the escorts started to land, and then it was Fifi’s turn. 

Here is a video we shot of Fifi landing.  For some reason or another, it does not want to embed within this post, so here is the link to it at youTube:

After waiting for two and a half hours, it was time to freshen up a bit, and then head on over to the airport.  There was a bit of a line to see Fifi, but it moved along at a nice clip.

Here are some pictures of Fifi when we took our tour.  As I am not familiar with the intricacies of this or any type of plane, I will just post some pictures here.  I would probably make errors in identifying the various parts anyways.

It was a good experience to witness a part of American military history, especially to see this plane fly.

I never got to meet Edwin Duty, which is my loss.  I would like to think that we would have gotten along well, and I would have loved hearing some of his stories from China and India.  I believe that he would have enjoyed seeing the four great-grandchildren his granddaughter had.

Thank you for your service to our country, Mr. Duty.  Thank you as well for the beautiful granddaughter you gave me as a wife, for I love her very much.  We will meet in the next life.

Requiem  aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

 Edwin “Ed” Duty
(Back row, furthest right)

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