Owners of the Last B-29 Hope It Doesn't Bomb in Its New Mission

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By the end of World War II, nearly 4,000 Boeing B-29 Superfortresses had been built, most of them to rain bombs on targets across the Pacific Theater. Today, there's only one B-29 still flying, and she's nicknamed "Fifi."

At a time when most vintage warplanes have retired to a quiet life on display in drafty museums, 65-year-old Fifi is embarking on a new mission: giving rides to paying enthusiasts and once again making the air-show rounds, which occasionally feature a simulated atomic-bomb attack.

Fifi's current assignment follows a long journey back from near obsolescence. To make her return to the skies, she required a four-year, multimillion dollar engine overhaul, and her owners had to navigate through a protracted spat with the Federal Aviation Administration for renewed clearance to fly.

In its prime, the B-29 was the most sophisticated heavy bomber ever developed. Boasting a pressurized cabin and automated gun systems, the four-engine propeller plane could traverse long distances at high altitudes—evading enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire—to drop thousands of pounds of high explosives on Japan. The war's most famous B-29, the "Enola Gay," dropped the atomic bomb above Hiroshima.

From the start, the bombers were unreliable and difficult to maintain. They had powerful-but-finicky engines that were prone to spontaneous combustion. When the war was over, variants of the B-29 remained in service until the 1960s, but the Air Force largely discarded the noisy gas guzzlers.

Fifi didn't see combat. Built just weeks before Tokyo's surrender in August 1945, she served stateside with the Air Force until 1954, when she was lent to the Navy, transferred to a facility in California's Mojave Desert, and promptly forgotten....

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