I’ve never spent so much time in a museum that I was the last to leave, but then again, I had never seen something as amazing as Doc, a B-29 Superfortress.
The last of two remaining fly-worthy military bombers, Doc sits on display in a permanent hanger and education center in Wichita, Kansas. Boeing, located in my home city that is considered the Air Capital of the World, produced 1,644 B-29 Superfortresses for bombing missions during World War II. Currently, only other air-worthy Superfortress is FiFi.
Doc was meticulously restored and brought back to operational status thanks to dedicated volunteers — many of whom are past aviation workers, veterans, and active-duty retirees. The volunteers, referred to as Doc’s Friends, spent over 400,000 hours working on it.
The mission of Doc’s Friends, a non-profit, is “to honor the men and women who sacrificed so much for the freedom of others, including those who designed, built, maintained and flew the B-29 during and after WWII” and to “connect people with the rich heritage of the B-29 and allow aviation enthusiasts to experience the thrill of a B-29 up close.”
The B-29 was considered the most technically advanced aircraft of its time and was used primarily to drop bombs over Japan during World War II until they eventually surrendered. You can read more about its history here.
As a Wichitan, I was amazed to learn that much of the work done of the B-29s was by Wichita in my community. The assembly line crew pushed out about four B-29s every day at the height of its production. The city’s population exploded during the 1940s-1960s during what was considered an economic boom due to high demand for aircraft production.
During our visit, we met Doc’s friends who told us fascinating stories about the bomber’s restoration and years in service. In total, volunteers spent over of 16 years bringing Doc back to life after it was found in the Mohave Desert in 1987 by Tony Mazzolini. After 42 years of sitting in the dessert suffering from target practice and extensive weather damage, Mazzolini led the the effort to return it to its original home in Wichita. You can read about the bomber’s final active mission here.
If you visit Doc at the hangar ($10 admission for adults), I highly recommend spending an extra $5 for the opportunity to climb into the cockpit and take a look around. A volunteer will lead the tour and describe each compartment of the bomber. Our tour guide typically sits in one of Doc’s gunner windows when in flight and he was a wealth of information.
During the cockpit tour, I sat in the navigator’s seat nestled close to table covered in maps and equipment. While you can’t sit up front in the left or right seats of the cockpit, you get a very close view of it. I was amazed by the controls panels, wiring (Doc did not operate on hydraulics), and what must have been thousands of rivets. Over my shoulder I spotted a Rosie The Riveter statue. The fictional pop culture character is a representation of the many hard working women who worked on the assembly lines during World War II.
I’m so glad I finally carved out time to visit the hanger and learn the history of Doc and the men and women who brought it back to life after nearly 30 years.
To see the warbird up close is breathtaking, but to witness it flying above Wichita is truly incredible. You definitely hear it before you see it. Today, Doc flies to air shows and provides 30-minute rides to lucky passengers of all ages. Interested in visiting the education center in Wichita? It’s best to make sure Doc is at home before you plan your visit. Can’t make it to Wichita to see it in person? Visit the Doc & Friend’s website to view it via a live steaming video.
Do you love aviation history? I encourage you to also read a post I wrote honoring National Aviation Day and Wichita’s contribution to the legacy of flight. If you find yourself in Wichita and want to experience the city like a local, let me be your virtual tour guide. I’ve also crafted a post detailing great restaurants and attractions.
If you have questions about visiting Doc or want to learn more about Wichita’s aviation history, by all means leave your questions below. I’m happy to answer them, and if I can’t, I’ll direct you to the best resource!