Wearing a frown, "Doc" awaits disassembly
Photo Copyright 2000 by Don R. Jordan
"Doc" To Fly Again
A B-29 Restoration Story
Special link to the all new "Doc"
"Doc" the derelict B-29 found abandon on the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the barren Mojave Desert is getting a new lease on life. Like the mythical flight of the Phoenix, this vintage War Bird will soon be soaring above the clouds once more. Last year, it was rescued from certain destruction by the forces of nature or at the hands of eager young jet jockeys, most of whom were not yet born when the B-29 was shiny new and in its prime.
For decades, it stood at the symbolic stake waiting its turn for death on the receiving end of a high explosive missile. Two such missiles were actually fired at "Doc", but mercifully both missed their target and exploded harmlessly in the desert sands.
Then, as if by Divine intervention, "Doc" was moved out of harms way, but was left to bake in the desert sun for decades. The only witnesses to its slow deterioration was the native wildlife of the region. Some of which made their homes in its sturdy framework. If not for the shear determination of one man the aircraft would still be out on the desert floor with "Doc", the Disney cartoon character painted on the nose, staring out on the desolate landscape.
That man was Tony Mazzolini, and his dream was to restore the aircraft to flying condition and have it take its place in formation with "Fifi" the only other airworthy B-29 in existence. Tony thought "Doc" was a good candidate for restoration, and it looks as though he is right.
The engines and wings have been remove, and the hydraulic fluid that once surged through its steel veins has been purged in preparation for the move to the Boeing Plant in Wichita, Kansas. The trip will be made by flatbed truck, a far lower and slower method than the war bird is accustom to traveling. But for "Doc" the humiliation will be worth it, for in less than 24 months, it will be airborne again.
Cliff Gaston, Maintenance Manager for the "UNITED STATES AVIATION MUSEUM" in Universal City, Texas agrees, and is in charge of the dismantling project. I had the privilege of meeting Cliff on May 6, 2000 at the preparation facility near the Inyokern Airport, not far from the test range where "Doc" was to meet its doom. I was also granted the rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the famous bomber. A truly once in a lifetime chance to view and photograph the innermost secrets and observe firsthand the workings of a nearly fully intact World War II B-29 bomber.
It was indeed a thrill for me to finally get closer to a B-29 than the viewing chains around the static display located at the Castle Air Museum not far from my home. My hobby as a World War II military aircraft crash site locator has brought me to the final resting place of three B-29s. All three met a violent end in the California mountains with great loss of life.
As I toured "Doc" I recognized some parts that I had previously only viewed laying twisted and bent in the underbrush at the crash site of one of these giant bombers. I once again tried to imagine the great force that could reach into the very center of such a big airplane and crush a small radio part, or break an elevator trim control wheel into a multitude of small unrecognizable pieces.
On May 6th, "Doc" was pretty much disassembled. The entire tail section was removed along with the outer wing panels and engines. Preparations were well underway to split the two center wing boxes which are jointed, end to end, in the center of the fuselage.
The pictures shown here are but a few taken that day. I hope someday to walk around "Doc" again and compare my photos to the finished product. My wildest dream and fantasy is to be onboard when finally, switches are thrown and the shout of "Clear Prop" goes out to the ground crew. Or, just to hear the whine of the starter motor and listen to the clicking from the magnetos as the giant four bladed propeller starts to turn under its own power for the first time in decades.
What it must have been like to feel those huge radials come to life, I can only imagine. To feel the deep vibration increase as each engine cleared its throat and leaves the starter behind while coming up to idle RPM.
I can dream! It doesn't hurt to dream.
In the meantime, if you live
the highways between Inyokern, California and Wichita, keep your eyes
One of these days very soon, you just might see "Doc" passing by on the
way to a rebuild. Most likely, the next time you see this
aircraft it will be performing at one of the many air shows held in
country, which it once helped to defend.
by Don R. Jordan
Doc's Picture Page
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