Last Saturday at Rochester International Airport's Hangar C, personnel on the Commemorative Air Force's AirPower History Tour celebrated the birthday of Boeing B-29 Superfortress "FIFI." The airplane turned 76, and the celebration featured an appropriately airplane-themed cake.
FIFI was working hard on her birthday, as visitors had the opportunity to watch her fly, take tours of her cockpit and even take a flight. They could also do the same for the B-24 Liberator “Diamond Lil,” as well as take a spin in the smaller T-6 Texan or PT-13 Stearman.
Rochester is just one of many stops the tour is making across North America. The nonprofit Commemorative Air Force puts on the tour each year so people across the country can witness the historical planes in action, learn about their role in U.S. military history and honor those who served on them and helped build and maintain them.
“Our goal is to fly these airplanes and not have them in a museum,” said Cheryl Hilbert, who volunteers with the Commemorative Air Force and has a personal connection to the planes through her father, who was a pilot during World War II.
The event drew history buffs and aviation enthusiasts, as well as veterans. Some attendees had personal connections to the planes, such as Gerald and Marge Gansen, who traveled 50 miles from Riceville, Iowa to see the planes. Gerald Gansen, who is 93, helped at one of the Commemorative Air Force’s Texas branches in the late 1980s after his retirement.
“He actually worked on this plane [the B-29 Superfortress] after the shows,” said Gansen’s oldest son, Tim Gansen. “He would help unload it and clean it and help change the oil to get it ready to go to the next show.”
Tim’s wife, Kathy Gansen, was glad to see the tour again.
“The sound of the plane going by just makes me think of what it was doing back then,” she said. “It still gives me goosebumps. It’s just thrilling.”