A pilot with Chanute ties will be at the controls of a piece of aviation history in Topeka in September.
Fredric “FM” Jeanes will fly a restored Boeing B-29 Superfortress named Fifi Sept. 11-15 at the AirPower History Tour in Topeka.
Jeanes, a commercial pilot for American Airlines, will take passengers in the bomber during its stop as part of a national tour of historic World War II aircraft by the Commemorative Air Force.
Also on the tour are a B-24 Liberator named Diamond Lil, a P-51 Mustang Gunfighter, a T-6 Texan, and a Boeing Stearman biplane.
Fifi is one of two B-29s still in flying condition. The other one named Doc is based in Wichita, flown by a different organization.
Different pilots will command the planes at each stop of the tour, and Jeanes said he bid to fly Fifi at the suggestion of friends.
Jeanes learned to fly on a Cessna 150 when he turned 13 years old, and worked at the Chanute airport pumping gas and washing planes to trade for flight time. After graduation in 1978, he flew at the University of Kansas and went to work for two years with Air Midwest in Wichita, flying 19-passenger Merlin Metroliners on commuter flights.
He joined American Airlines in 1986 and now flies Boeing 777 jets internationally.
Jeanes said he always had a passion for old military aircraft. The B-29 is like a big, flying museum that draws veterans out to see it.
“The expressions on their faces when they get in one of these airplanes is incredible,” Jeanes said, adding that it is as if they are back in their 20s.
He said emotions are high.
“We are all very proud and happy to be doing this,” Jeanes said.
Given the B-29’s development during a war emergency and the advance of technology since then, he said it is like flying a Mack truck without power steering.
“It’s a very physical airplane,” he said.
He said the Boeing 777 is basically a flying computer, but has a record of safety.
The B-29 was only lightly used in Europe and is mostly known for World War II use in the Pacific, particularly dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. It was later used in the Korean Conflict and retired in the early 1960s.
Fifi came out of the factory in Seattle in July 1945, too late for the war that ended a month later. She was stationed in Salina, then later retired in 1958 to join 35 other B-29s in the China Lake Naval Air Station in the California desert.
The planes there were used as targets, but in 1971 the organization then known as the Confederate Air Force sought one to restore.
Devotees brought the plane up to flyable condition for one 6½-hour nonstop trip to Texas where it was grounded as soon as it landed. The CAF spent a decade restoring the plane, including three years of fundraising.
“It’s a volunteer organization of very dedicated people doing this,” Jeanes said.
Jeanes has 20 hours of flight time on B-29s, all on Fifi, from tours to Tennessee, Maryland, Ohio and New Jersey. It’s not possible to log simulator training.
“I don’t even think there is a simulator (for B-29s),” he said.
The B-29 carries 10 passengers and a crew of six.
The Boeing 777 is a twin-engine jet while the B-29 has four piston engines driving four-bladed propellers. Each engine has 18 pistons, with nine pistons around each of two cranks like the spokes on a wheel making 2,100 horsepower.
The B-29 could fly up to 10 hours at 210 knots, while the Boeing 777 flies more than four times faster, at 85 percent the speed of sound.
Jeanes said he feels blessed and honored to communicate to later generations what happened with these planes, as the people who flew them are dying out and the knowledge is being lost.