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W.Va. airport displays WWII 'flying museums'

September 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Carl Linn flew the second B-29 bomber that took off from the United States and went to the Pacific during World War II. As a member of the Army Air Corps, the precursor of the Air Force, he was a radar operator on B-29s until 1945.

Linn, 80, had not flown on a B-29 since the war until Monday, when as an early birthday present his family arranged for him to fly from North Carolina to Martinsburg aboard the only B-29 that Commemorative Air Force members said is still flying.

"It is great," Linn said as he walked slowly across the tarmac of Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, clad in a flight suit. "I can't think of a better birthday present."

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Linn, of Jane Lew, W.Va., said the landing was the smoothest he'd ever experienced.

"I couldn't believe it," he said of the gift. "I still can't believe it."

The B-29 and a B-24 will be on display at the airport from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., starting today and ending Sunday.

Rides on the B-24, which Commemorative Air Force members said is one of only two still flying, also will be available.

"They're flying museums. We take them all over the country," said John Flynn, who rotates flying as a member of the B-29 crew. "We take the museum to the people."

Both planes, along with many others from World War II, are owned by the Commemorative Air Force, or CAF, which is based in Midland, Texas.

Flynn, who was not aboard the B-29 Monday but was awaiting its arrival at the airport, said the B-29 was delivered to the Army Air Corps a month before another B-29 - the Enola Gay - dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, prompting Japan to surrender.

After the war the CAF's B-29 Superfortress, named Fifi, was used for training. It never saw combat.

From 1956 to 1971 the plane was parked, exposed, in a desert in southern California. A member of the Commemorative Air Force, then named the Confederate Air Force, spotted the B-29 while flying as a commercial pilot, Flynn said.

A businessman gathered enough money to buy the plane and three years was spent getting it into shape to fly, he said.

Flynn said he never worries about flying in a plane that is around 60 years old, because he partially handles its maintenance.

"As long as I work on it, I know it's OK," Flynn said.

When he is part of the six-person B-29 crew as the lead scanner, Flynn sits in the rear where the gunner once did and keeps an eye on the plane's engines, wing flaps and landing gear.

The B-24A/LB30B Liberator, named Diamond Lil, also has an interesting story. During World War II it was ordered by France, but could not be delivered there because France had been invaded by Germany. The plane then was supposed to go to Britain, but while flying through Canada was involved in a minor crash, Flynn said.

It was then used for testing during the war and eventually was sold to a tin can company, after which it had other private owners.

CAF members paid $60,000 for the B-24 in 1968. Of the 19,000 made, only two are still flying, said Jim Stewart, national tour director for both the B-29 and B-24.

Sometime this week, people will be able to ride in the B-24, provided at least six people sign up, Stewart said.

Because the plane costs around $2,000 an hour to operate, a half-hour ride will cost $400, Stewart said. The Commemorative Air Force is a nonprofit organization.

"Vets and their families and everybody need to look at these pieces of history before they disappear," Stewart said as he stood in the cargo area of the B-24.

The interior of the B-24 appears nearly as it did during World War II, except for some changes made because of safety requirements, Stewart said. Seats lined both sides of the cargo area, while a bomb, its interior workings removed, was propped up.

A dizzying number of gears and gauges lined the cockpit and a gun protruded from the nose. Bullets, which are not live, were included for authenticity, Stewart said.

A painting of a nearly nude voluptuous woman decorates the outside of the plane's nose.

Stewart predicted that soon the planes will be too expensive to operate.

"We just want to keep that history alive," he said.

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