J.W. Brown flew Navy fighter jets off aircraft carrier decks during the Cold War. But the 80-year-old Cleveland-area man had never flown in a World War II-era B-29 Superfortress until Friday.
“I just love the airplanes, and I’ve never been in one I didn’t like,” he said.
The Commemorative Air Force B-29 nicknamed “Fifi,” the last flying model of its kind in the world, flew over the Dayton area in a half-hour ride 2,000 feet at about 200 mph on Friday, soaring near downtown Dayton, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and other regional landmarks. The plane, based in Addison, Texas, is in the line-up to appear in the Vectren Dayton Air Show this weekend. The historic B-29 that was in Dayton Friday was built in the final days of the war, and never served in World War II.
But the challenge of flying it is as real today as it was decades ago, said pilot Paul Stojkov, 55, of Cleveland.
“It’s real flying, real hands-on flying,” said Stojkov, who flies a Boeing 767 for United Airlines when he’s not flying the B-29. “There is no autopilot.”
B-29 crew member Caren Landis, of Valley Cottage, N.Y., wears around her neck the World War II dog tags her father wore in combat when he flew aboard a B-29 as a radio operator on bombing raids over Japan and other Pacific islands.
“The guy was my hero,” the 58-year-old retired school teacher said in a conversation aboard the old bomber. “That’s why I do this.”
She’s been a crew member aboard the historic plane for two years, time enough for her father, Harvey Landis, to see his daughter as a CAF crew member before he died of pancreatic cancer this year at the age of 87. “I never thought when I was a kid I would get to do this,” she said. “It’s an honor.”
Harvey Landis was 18-years-old when he first started missions on the four-engine propeller plane, than the largest American bomber in the war.
“They had some hairy missions,” his daughter said, such as when the crew had to ditch the bomber in the waters off Guam after a bombing raid over Japan. “He always told my brother and myself, ‘Be afraid, because war is horrible.’”
Sean Casler, 31, a Dayton insurance manager, was aboard for this flight soaring over subdivisions with cul-de-sacs and swimming pools, high school football fields and verdant farm fields.
“I couldn’t imagine what was going through the 18-year-olds mind when they were going out on their mission,” he said. “It gives you some appreciation of what they did.”
Two B-29s dropped atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which has been credited with ending the war with Japan. The air show had planned a reenactment of the Hiroshima raid this weekend, but reversed course after an online protest and public outcry earlier this year.
Video: Watch video from Friday’s flight of the B-29 Superfortress at myDaytonDailyNews.com.
How to go
When: June 22 and June 23. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. both days
How to get there: The Vectren Dayton Air Show at Dayton International Airport will have on site parking this weekend. Motorists along Interstate 75 may exit at Northwoods Boulevard, exit 64, and follow the signs.
The RTA Park and Ride Shuttle will pick up Vectren Dayton Air Show visitors at two locations this weekend to take them to the main air show gate. The pick-up locations are: The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, for a round trip fare of $3, and the Wright Stop Plaza in downtown Dayton, where regular fare rates apply. The shuttles will operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Go to www.i-riderta.org for more information.
A shuttle parking location published in Active Dayton Friday was incorrect.