I haven’t taken as many road trips in 2018 as I have in years past – there’s been so much going on around here it’s been tough to get away. Thankfully, though, I’ve been able to check a few things out here locally that I would’ve missed out on otherwise – one of which took place this weekend at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. For the last few days, TASM has hosted the Commemorative Air Force and several historic aircraft from World War II.
After paying my entry fee on Saturday and passing several displays of military memorabilia, I walked out onto the tarmac and into the shadow of “Fifi”, a B-29 Superfortress bomber. Until very recently it was the only airworthy B-29 left. It’s now titled the “World’s Most Famous” flying B-29. The other one, “Doc”, just received a green light for passengers last week. Both planes had been grounded and relegated to a life of target practice before they were purchased by private entities and fully restored.
The line to see the cockpit of the 75,000 lb. aircraft was quite long, so I looked around at some of the other vintage planes first. There was a blue-and-yellow Stearman biplane taking off as I arrived. At first, I was a little confused as to why an older aircraft like this was nestled among its more advanced brethren…but one of the folks explained to me that these planes were the primary training aircraft used during World War II. It sure looked like a fun ride with the open cockpit and all.
Next up was T-6 Texan. This one was also a trainer aircraft and quite popular. Over a quarter of a century, these airplanes were involved in training hundreds of thousands of pilots in dozens of countries. They also saw service in battle into the early part of the Korean War.
The C-45 Expeditor, named “Bucket of Bolts”, is a military transport plane. Over the course of this model’s service these craft were used for bombardier training, staff service, and photo reconnaissance. It was the most active airplane during my time on the tarmac; it didn’t stay still very long before another group of folks boarded it and went on a flight around the city.
The airplane that got the most attention (aside from Fifi herself) was a P-51 Mustang called “Gunfighter”. This fighter plane is one of the most well-known aircraft of its era; they were used extensively due to their long range and effectiveness in combat. In fact, some were still in use as recently as the 1980s by other air forces around the world. Sadly, I never saw this one in flight during my visit.
I finally got back to Fifi and joined the line for the tour; the shade under the port-side wing was quite welcome. It took about 45 minutes to get to the plane’s interior, but I didn’t mind the wait. Most of the other admirers were older and spent their time sharing knowledge or memories with their families. Many of them were veterans and some had served on similar aircraft personally. I would never associate my Dad with the military or a particular love of aircraft, but I sure did miss him as I heard fathers and sons bonding around me.
We entered through the forward bomb bay doors, which had been outfitted with replica bombs to give a sense as to what the racks looked like during the war. It was awesome in the original sense of the word.
When I finally reached the cockpit, it was easy to see what I was later told: the configuration had been an inspiration for the creation of the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars. How amazing must that view be during flight! Alas, a ticket in the bombardier seat is $1,600.
Since Fifi’s flights for the day were over, I came back the next morning to get some video of the behemoth in action. It sure was a sight to see! Maybe one day I’ll get a chance to go up in something like this. Until then, it’s enough to be a witness to this history with my feet planted on the ground.