Side on with a B-29A. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Side on with a B-29A – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

It’s rare to get to fly on something unique, but the Commemorative Air Force has an aircraft that can fit the bill. Most of our readers probably are familiar with the fact that they operate a Boeing B-29 Superfortress (NX529B), more popularly known as FIFI.

FiFi is a 1945 model B-29; in other words, produced after the war. Originally, it was delivered to an Army Air Forces facility in Kansas. Following that, it was converted to a TB-29A for use as a crew trainer.  In 1958, it ended up at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. There it sat on the range as a target. Miraculously, it was not destroyed, and was acquired by the Commemorative Air Force in 1971. They have been taking exceptional care of the airframe ever since.

As part of the 2014 Air Power Tour, it arrived at Paine Field on June 19th, and I was scheduled to fly on it the next day.

Nose on with FiFi. Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

Nose-on with FIFI – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

FIFI is a gem of an aircraft, in better condition than most things I fly on recreationally. Not that such a statement says much on its own, but it legitimately looks like it could have rolled off the assembly line yesterday- not sixty-nine years ago.

While Boeing was clearly the primary contractor on all B-29s, and they were  produced right here in Renton (though Martin and other companies made their share in Georgia), there was a phenomenal degree of subcontracting. The hydraulically-braked landing gear was actually produced by Chevrolet, for instance. I mention it as it still bares the signature Chevy mark.

Boarding a B-29 is also a bit different. One goes in via a ladder located in the nosewheel gear bay.

Photo of the Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 flight 214 crash from the NTSB.

Asiana Airlines flight 214 crash, a Boeing 777 – Photo: NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) this week released a synopsis of their final report on last year’s crash of Asiana Airlines flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO).  The report lists NTSB’s findings, identifies a probable cause, and makes 27 specific recommendations to Asiana, the FAA, and Boeing – among others.  The crash was found to be pilot error – the result of a botched visual approach which culminated in the Boeing 777-200ER hitting a seawall and crashing onto the runway, killing three and seriously injuring dozens.

For anyone who has followed the crash investigation, there were no real surprises in the report. However, there are some interesting takeaways.

The best seats in the house. This is the cockpit of the 787 with large "glass" screen. Who wants to go for a ride?

787 cockpit showing TCAS on the Multi-Function Display – Photo: AirlineReporter

A few months ago, a near-collision between two Boeing 757s off the coast of Hawaii was in the headlines. This event was particularly noteworthy because of the emergency descent made by United Airlines Flight 1205, which descended over 600 feet in a matter of seconds, terrifying passengers and sending items flying in the cabin. The pilots on the United flight were alerted to the oncoming traffic, and took action based on their Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

History of mid-air incidents and TCAS mandate

Although TCAS systems are a (relatively) recent development in airline cockpits, the need for such systems was recognized long ago. On June 30,1956, a mid-air collision occurred at 20,000 feet between a United Airlines DC-7 and a TWA Lockheed 1049 over the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona. This incident, which resulted in 128 fatalities, served as a wake-up call for the aviation industry. Prior to the collision, “big sky theory” was the prevailing notion – that two aircraft flying in three-dimensional space were very unlikely to collide. Following this incident (which also led to the creation of the FAA), research began on developing collision avoidance systems.

Coming in for a landing - Photo Gr

Coming in for a landing – Photo: Graeme J W Smith

Lunchtime – I arrive at Airport Road in Warwick, having driven past the usual airport entrance and around the end of the field. There are hangars behind the fence, a big “Learn to Fly Here” sign on the end of the large hangar. A trail of little yellow airplanes painted on the sidewalk leads to the school door in the old control tower building. I go through the door. A counter – I’m immediately greeted by a young guy whose name badge said Chris. There are aviation prints, flags from around the world from people who learned at the school, a case with headsets and aircraft models, some seats, and magazines.

We do some paperwork. Chris detects my Scottish accent. He will need to perform a background check on me before I am ever able to solo. A legacy from 9/11. I explain I’m actually an American and produce a US Passport. Clearly this has just saved a ton of extra paperwork. Big smile from Chris. We talk about – what else – flying. My instructor is finishing up with the last student – he will be right with me.

Someone appears through a door telling the person who is clearly a student what they will do next time. I’m introduced to Greg. He snags me a guest headset from the school’s loaner pile, grabs a flight box for an aircraft, and takes me down to the classrooms on the side of the hangar. Each desk has a computer, books, and some aviation print or similar. We sit down at his and go over what is about to happen. We are cautiously sounding each other out. We turn to the computer and get a volume of information from it (don’t worry, it gets easier with time) weather, standard briefing, radar picture, METARS, TAF’s, TFR’s and NOTAMS all written in code and requiring interpretation. I note the website we are using for later study. We do this before EVERY flight. Especially TFR’s – Temporary Flight Restrictions – they can pop up at a moment’s notice and leave you grounded or in big trouble if you fly.