I’ve never spent so much time in a museum that I was the last to leave, but I had never seen something as amazing as Doc, a B-29 Superfortress.
The last of two remaining fly-worthy military bombers, Doc is displayed in a permanent hangar and education center in Wichita, Kansas. Boeing, located in my home city and is considered the Air Capital of the World, produced 1,644 B-29 Superfortresses for bombing missions during World War II. Currently, the only other air-worthy Superfortress is FiFi.
Doc was meticulously restored and returned to operational status thanks to dedicated volunteers — many of whom are past aviation workers, veterans, and active-duty retirees. Doc’s Friends volunteers 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 Wichita did much of the work done by the B-29s 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 the 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. Volunteers spent over 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 desert, suffering from target practice and extensive weather damage, Mazzolini led 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 to climb into the cockpit and 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 close to a 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 control 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 represents 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 hangar and learn the history of Doc and the men and women who brought it back to life after nearly 30 years.
Seeing the warbird up close is breathtaking, but witnessing it flying above Wichita is incredible. You 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 ensure Doc is at home before planning your visit. Can’t make it to Wichita to see it in person? Visit Doc & Friend’s website to view it via a live-streaming 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 are in Wichita and want to experience the city like a local, let me be your virtual tour guide. I’ve also crafted a post 3-1-6- Destinations to Experience in Wichita.
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; if I can’t, I’ll direct you to the best resource!