Preston McPhail has seen plenty of pictures of the B-29 Superfortresses his father worked on at Tinker Air Force Base, and he could always visit one in a museum, but he never thought he would get to see one in the air.
McPhail, 70, of Oklahoma City, was among the onlookers Tuesday who got a close-up look at one of the World War II-era bombers best known for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A B-29 nicknamed FIFI, the last Superfortress still flying, landed at Oklahoma City's Wiley Post Airport, where it will be on display until Sunday along with several other World War II aircraft.
Dozens of aviation enthusiasts and military veterans watched the Superfortress as it landed about noon and then gawked at the bomber and the other planes on display, including a combat-used P-51 Mustang.
McPhail said he found out the B-29 was visiting Tulsa and considered driving to see it. When he heard it was coming to Oklahoma City, he told his wife he had to go.
“It's all the difference in the world seeing it fly instead of in a museum,” McPhail said. “You can smell the exhaust from the engines.”
The B-29 is operated by the Commemorative Air Force, a nonprofit educational group that preserves and flies historic aircraft across the country. The group offers tours and sells rides on the planes to help pay for the cost of preserving them.
David Oliver, one of FIFI's pilots, said giving people a chance to see planes like the B-29 in action helps teach the history of World War II to the next generations.
“We are really allowing people to come out and take a step back in history,” Oliver said. “There are a lot of museums out there, but we feel the best way to experience these aircraft is to see them in their natural element.”
The B-29 was ahead of its time. It was the first pressurized bomber, which allowed it to fly at high altitude above enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns without forcing crew members to breath through oxygen masks. It had remote-controlled gun turrets with centralized command and an unrivaled bomb capacity.
At the end of the war, it was the only bomber capable of carrying the atomic bomb.
Dave Reid, 81, of Oklahoma City, chatted with several of the B-29's aircrew Tuesday afternoon after they landed. He was a teenager when the B-29 nicknamed Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, helping to bring about the end of World War II.
“I used to keep up with these planes when I was a kid,” Reid said. “I've always loved the P-51 Mustang and that B-29. Since this is only one in the world left that's flying, I thought I should see it.”