World War II pilot Don Kyle, 92, watched in amazement as the giant four-engine B-29 Superfortress glided low over Akron and onto the runway at Akron Fulton International Airport.
“Fifi,” as the plane is called, is the only B-29 still flying.
Kyle and other spectators were there to see a number of aircraft in the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) arrive for a three-day visit as part of an AirPower History Tour.
“Oh yeah,” said Kyle, as his mind raced back in time to the Philippines in 1944 and 1945.
Kyle never flew a B-29 himself. Instead, he was a pilot on a B-24 Liberator, a smaller, slower bomber. He flew 40 missions in the Pacific Theater.
He recalls flying over an island airbase where there were many B-29s and seeing them from the air.
“It looked like an aluminum island,” he said.
“We had to do what had to be done,” he said. “And I wanted to do it in the air.”
The B-29 was followed by a P-51 Mustang fighter-bomber, C-45 Expeditor utility plane, T-6 Texan trainer aircraft and a pre-WWII 1929 Stearman Speedmail plane.
Kyle, a Seiberling Tire and Firestone retiree from Barberton, wrote a self-published book many years ago about his experiences called Wild Blue Yonder.
He and his crew of 10 came back unscathed, but he estimated that of his bomb group of 48, 5 to 6 were shot down.
“Lucky,” is the word he uses to describe how his plane and crew came home alive.
Several years ago, he once again took over the controls on a B-24 for about 15 minutes over northern Ohio.
Recalling that he was just 21 when he learned to fly, he said he looked at the controls and thought, “I did this?”
“It was a young man’s war,” he said.
But he said he immediately remembered how to fly.
Paul Stojkov of Cleveland, a commercial airline pilot, flew the B-29 into Akron.
There is no comparison, he said, between flying a contemporary jet with flying the B-29.
“This is real flying,” he said.
Paul Maupin, the co-pilot on the B-29 crew with 43 years of flight experience, said the CAF makes 30 to 35 stops around the country each year.
The B-29 that will be flying over Akron was delivered to the Army Air Force on July 31, 1945, he said. The CAF found it at a naval gunnery range in California.
“We do our best to keep it running,” he said.
One of the spectators who turned out Monday knows the B-29.
George Strauch, 95, of Barberton was a B-29 technical inspector stateside during World War II.
“It brings back memories,” said Strauch, who brought his B-29 flight manual with him.
Kyle, whose wife of 72 years, Margaret, died just three weeks ago, said there are three members of his 10-man crew still alive, and he and his son, Bob Kyle, a general aviation pilot, will go to Sacramento in the fall to visit the navigator.
Kyle said the final reunion of the 494th Bomber Group, 7th Air Force, was held a few years ago.
His plane often flew 800 miles one way to a bombing target and then back at a speed of 140 to 160 mph.
Kyle hoped to climb on board the B-29 plane during its stay in Akron.
The planes will be available for viewing and flights from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. today and Wednesday.
Admission is $10 per person and $20 for a family of parents and children. Cockpit tours are available when the plane is not in the air.
Airplane rides are offered at a prices ranging from $65 to $1,595.
Go to www.AirPowerTour.org for more information about the tour.
For more on the CAF go to www.commemorativeairforce.org.
Also at the airport will be a Classic Car Cruise-In today from 2 to 8 p.m. to benefit the CAF. The $10 admission for the planes will apply to the cars.
The airport entrance is at 1600 Triplett Blvd.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.