MARION - The Airpower History Tour landed in southern Illinois this week and was met with perfect weather conditions. Sunshine and a cool breeze buoyed a fascinated group of visitors who gathered at Veterans Airport on Wednesday morning. The crowd on hand to view the planes included both curious novices and dogmatic history buffs. The star attraction was a gigantic B-29 Superfortress nicknamed “FIFI.” It has been completely refurbished and is one of two such planes still in existence.
After a lecture on the plane’s history, participants were encouraged to enter the belly of the plane, check out the meticulously restored interior, and exit down a short ladder from the cockpit. It may have been an unusual test of agility and physical strength, but few were willing to bypass a chance to climb back into the past.
One of the serious enthusiasts present was Richard Emmert of Marion. Emmert worked for the US Government before retiring, and has traveled all over the country and the world. He’s a Vietnam War veteran, and also has a unique perspective regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, having lived in the Middle East.
Emmert was lured to the airport show because he had “never seen a B-29 up close before.” He also appreciated other planes on display, including the C-45 and P-51, and wished he had more time in his busy day to enjoy them.
Nick Stella, an SIU senior in aviation, also felt compelled to examine such a rare flying machine. A pilot himself, he is appreciative of classic archetypes. Stella said his grandfather was a C-47 pilot who flew missions over the South Pacific during WWII.
Stella plans to be a flight instructor someday, and said he believes preserving the past is the key to promoting flight in years to come.
“I hope they keep the B-29 around for future generations to show how we’ve moved aviation forward,” he said.
Airport manager Doug Kimmel said he recognizes the value of bringing the Commemorative Air Force exhibit to the airport.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase the airport facility that we have, which can accommodate the CAF and all the aircraft that they’re bringing for display,” he said. “I would say it’s even more of an opportunity for everyone to see this piece of aviation history. They’re going to have a great weekend for folks to come out and enjoy it!”
The Airpower History Tour is scheduled to continue through Sunday, and is in session daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The price of admission is $10 for adults, $5 for older children ages 11 to 17, and no charge for those 10 years old or younger.
It is also possible to book an actual flight on one of the planes. More information is available online at http://www.airpowertour.org.