Wartime veterans fly into Tri-Cities Airport

Mike Still • May 28, 2019 at 10:54 AM

 BLOUNTVILLE — The Commemorative Air Force arrived at Tri-Cities Airport on Monday with the sounds and smells of radial engines and sights of what aerial warfare was like in World War II.

Tri-City Aviation’s 2019 Aviation Celebration and the CAF AirPower History Tour display begin on Wednesday at Tri-Cities Airport, but some people got an early taste of the five-day event as two heavy bombers, a biplane trainer and a transport plane streamed into the airport before 1 p.m.

Onlookers got to see a rare B-24A Liberator, “Diamond Lil,” from among the first 18 ever produced, followed by “FIFI” — one of two remaining flying B-29 Superfortresses. A Boeing-Stearman PT-13 Kaydet primary training biplane, taxiing in after FIFI’s arrival, was dwarfed by the hundred-plus foot wingspan of the two bombers, and a Beech C-45 Expeditor was scheduled to arrive later Monday.

FIFI, unlike several thousand of her sister B-29s, didn’t make it to the Pacific or Korea. Kept in the U.S. as a trainer and administrative aircraft, she was retired in 1958 and found her way with 35 other B-29s onto the Navy’s China Lake Weapons station bombing range, where the CAF found her in 1971 and brought her back in flying condition for a one-way trip to Harlingen, Texas.

Three years and thousands of man-hours in restoration work later, FIFI became a regular CAF attraction. Also a movie star, FIFI portrayed the B-29 mothership carrying Chuck Yeager’s Mach one-breaking X-1.

The LB-30/B-24A started life as an LB-30 built under contract for the British Air Ministry. After a landing accident damaged its landing gear and bomb bay, the British agreed to let Consolidated keep her for development of later B-24 versions.

Postwar, she flew as an executive and civilian personnel hauler until 1967-1968, when the CAF first borrowed her then took full ownership. In the early 2000s, after two decades depicting a B-24D raider from the 1943 Ploesti oil refinery raid, the CAF brought her back to her original LB-30/B-24A layout.

The Kaydet, produced with changes to its power plant and some minor equipment changes, helped train thousands of Army Air Force, Navy, Marine and Allied pilots through most of the war. The Beech C-45 got its start as a light civilian transport airplane, but the start of WW II placed Beech’s product in demand not just as a transport but as a bombing and aerial gunnery training plane.

The AirPower History Tour runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for youths age 10 to 17. Children 9 and under will be admitted free. The ticket price includes a free tour of the B-29 and B-24. Parking is free for the event.

Spectators can watch the B-29 fly Saturday and Sunday from 9-10:30 a.m., and the B-24 will fly those days from 9:30 -11 a.m., weather permitting. Aircraft tours start at 9 a.m. Wednesday through Friday and at noon Saturday and Sunday.

Flights can be booked during the event. For more information, check online at TRIflight.com/AviationCelebration.

For more information, check Tri-Cities Airport’s website, triflightcom or Tri City Aviation’s website, tricityaviation.com.

Kingsport Times News Videos