Blasts from past fly into South Sound for Olympic Air Show

Most military demonstration planes still are grounded because of sequestration, but the Olympic Air Show will be flying high this year with a visit from Fifi, the only B-29 Superfortress still flying.

The B-29 was a groundbreaking aircraft, designed to carry out long-distance bombing during World War II.

“A B-29 was the airplane that dropped the atomic bombs during World War II,” said Brad Pilgrim, a flight engineer with the Commemorative Air Force, the Texas-based nonprofit dedicated to preserving and showing historic aircraft. “It was built to bomb targets that are thousands of miles away. It’s the only plane we had during World War II that was able to travel such long distances with 10,000 pounds of bombs.”

Built in July 1945, Fifi herself was used mostly as a training aircraft, but today she distinguishes herself as the only flight-worthy one among about 4,000 B-29s that Boeing built.

The B-29 Superfortress will not fly in the aerial show, but cockpit tours are available for $5 each, and rides in the plane are available, too, though prices start at $575.

Just the opportunity to see the plane is a rarity, though.

“It’s a very significant guest,” said Teri Thorning, executive director of the Olympic Flight Museum and the show’s coordinator.

The last time one of the huge bombers visited Olympia was in 1945, she said.

Thorning researched that visit in The Olympian.

“They said in 1945 that when the B-29 was here, it attracted 15,000 people from all of southwest Washington, and there were 1,500 more who got backed up in their cars through the city of Tumwater,” she said. “They couldn’t get in because it was so crowded.”

With a 141-foot wingspan and 99-foot-long fuselage, Fifi is classified as a very heavy bomber, weighing in around 90,000 pounds. The B-29 was the first pressurized military airplane and the first to have machine guns that fired by remote control.

The other star of the 16th annual show is the museum’s own Goodyear FG-1D Corsair, a fighter plane used in the Pacific during World War II.

“It’s been gone for 11 and a half years undergoing a ground-up restoration,” Thorning said. “They took the entire plane apart, fixed everything, replaced things and then put it back together again. It returned to us just last week.”

The Corsair will be featured in the aerial show. Also taking flight are several other aircraft from the museum’s collection.

In addition to the full-size aircraft, the show also will feature remote-control aircraft from Valley View RC. “These are very large remote-control aircraft, and they’ll fly a demo,” Thorning said. The planes have a 104-inch wingspan.

There also will be lots to see on the ground, including several antiques from the Puget Sound Aircraft Club and a jet engine provided by the Air Force.

That engine is the only military feature at this year’s show.

“There are many shows across the country that have canceled again this year,” Thorning said. She said the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds are flying again, but only at very large shows.

“We’d love to see the single-ship demonstrations made available again,” she said. “This year, the Olympic Air Show is extremely fortunate to have other assets.”

Olympic Air Show

What: The only B-29 bomber still flying and the Olympic Flight Museum’s FG-1D Corsair, just back from an 11-year restoration, are among the highlights of the museum’s 16th annual air show.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Olympia Regional Airport, 7637-A Old Highway 99, Olympia

Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the gate; free for children 6 and younger

More information: 360-705-3925 or olympicairshow.com

Also: A cockpit tour of the B-29 costs an additional $5. You also can ride on the B-29, with ticket prices beginning at $575. More information is available at airpowertour.com.