Sitting on the Southeast parking ramp of Boeing Field, a gigantic airplane in a bright white protective sheet awaits restoration by the Museum of Flight team.
The airplane is an antique Boeing B-29 bomber that flew 37 missions in World War Two but was retired before it could see service in Korea. It was used instead for target practice for new Navy combat pilots.
It survived all this abuse, and in 1994, the Air Force donated it to the Museum of Flight.
“The Museum’s B-29 was trucked to Seattle from Lowry Air Force Base when that base was being deactivated,” said Thompson, a volunteer restoration worker on the B-29. “It was decided that it was appropriate for it to be here since this was where it was designed and where the first three were built.”
After over 5,000 hours of restoration since its arrival, the plane is more than 90% ready for display in a museum.
However, due to a lack of hangar space, all work has stopped on restoration.
“When work resumes, the time to complete the restoration will depend upon the available time that volunteers can provide,” Thompson said. “A rough estimate might be two years from the time work resumes.”
This B-29 will be perfect down to every last detail. From crew ash trays to turret motors, all parts will be in perfect working order. Right now, with modifications from the restoration crew, this is the only B-29 in the world with turret guns that are capable of moving.
The airplane is wrapped in a white protective coating to protect it from the weather. Once the restoration is complete, the goal is to display it with the rest of the Museum’s collection.
“The current visions of the Museum are to build an addition on the west side of the existing building which would house both the B-17 and the B-29, along with the Red Barn,” said Thompson. “This would be known as the Boeing Pavilion.”
When this airplane finally goes on display, it will be a great benefit for the Museum patrons, providing another connection to one of the largest wars of American history. Alongside the B-17 that currently is on display in front of the Museum, it will show the story behind some of the most dangerous flying missions of the War.
“Putting those two planes on display will provide close access for the public to observe two famous airplanes,” Thompson said. “The role played by these planes is very significant in the history of World War II. The legacy of those who flew them can be preserved and their descendants can better appreciate the conditions under which their forefathers fought for their country.”
Currently, Museum visitors can take tours through the inside of the B-17. When the B-29 is finally restored, patrons may be able to do the same thing, and go inside a completely airworthy aircraft. Although the plane will be restored to perfect flying condition, it will never fly again.
Aviation High School students will be able to experience this connection. Scott Sluys, an AHS senior, wants to be an airline pilot after he graduates.
“With the help of the B-17 and the B-47,” Sluys said, “the B-29 will complete the chain in evolving aircraft, allowing the community and the students of the future AHS campus to watch the dramatic improvement in aircraft that occurred during the second World War.”
However, displaying only the aircraft would not tell this complete story. George Bowling, Jr. is another volunteer with the Museum of Flight. He helps to run the Living History section, which uses volunteers acting as WWII pilots to bring history to life.