Browsing Tag: Boeing Field

Looking out the nose of a B-29 over Seattle – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Typically we cover airlines and airliners here at AirlineReporter, but occasionally an opportunity in the non-airline[r] worlds pops up that we just can’t pass on.

So when the Museum of Flight here at our Seattle HQ announced that Doc, one of only two airworthy Boeing B-29 bombers, was planning to visit in mid-May, we jumped at the chance to see her up close. Even better, we got to take a short ride around Seattle.

The airplane arrived earlier this week (May 17). Its Star Wars-esque nose, four engines, and incredibly shiny fuselage made it easy to spot on the horizon. The pilots eased the bird onto the runway and taxied down to the Museum of Flight ramp as a crowd of onlookers gathered to watch.

While the B-29 was originally produced in Seattle, Doc is not a native Pacific Northwesterner. It was one of 1,644 B-29s built at Boeing’s Wichita plant, in Kansas, and rolled off the line in March of 1945. It never saw combat, and went on serve in radar calibration and target-towing until it was decommissioned in 1956.

Doc, one of two airworthy Boeing B-29 bombers left in the world, rests after a media flight at Boeing Field in Seattle on May 17, 2022


It continued its service to the United States Air Force even after retirement, but instead of towing targets, it became one. The airplane spent decades soaking in the desert sun, along with the occasional bomb or bullet, on an Air Force bombing range near China Lake, California before being discovered in 1987.  Restoration didn’t begin for another decade, in 1998, following a considerable amount of paperwork to pry the plane loose from the US government. Eighteen years and over 450,000 volunteer hours after that, the restoration was complete, and Doc once again took flight in 2016.

Its Seattle visit is the first for Doc, and the first B-29 visit to the area in almost eight years.

Flight engineer Don Obreiter keeps an eye on the engine gauges

After a quick refueling – the crew had flown in from Spokane, WA – a gaggle of media were invited to board. AirlineReporter got incredibly lucky and was offered a seat in the forward compartment, right behind the pilot. Visitors and crew alike climb aboard via a ladder in the nose gear wheel well, and are deposited right into the center of the cockpit.

In service, this compartment would’ve been quite busy with five people up front. Of course there’s the two pilots and a flight engineer, plus a navigator and, with the best seat in the house, the bombardier right in the nose.

Twin piston engines turning over Puget Sound – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Today of course, two of those positions are no longer necessary. The navigator and bombardier seats are now open for passengers, and an additional seat was added behind the pilot to fit one more person for a total of seven up front.

Eight more are seated in back, two scanners that assist the pilots in observing wheels and flap settings, and six passengers. The two sections are connected via a long, narrow tunnel that stretches over the  bomb bay. Back when it was in service, crews could traverse the two compartments in flight, but today passengers are not typically allowed to do so, mostly due to the risk of turbulence.

Climbing out after taking off from Boeing Field in Seattle – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Access hatches to the bomb bay, located under the tunnel at either entrance, look more like submarine hatches than anything you’d typically see on an airplane. That’s because the B-29 was among the first production aircraft to be pressurized when it first flew in 1942. This gave its flight crews substantial advantages in comfort that other World War II-era bombers simply didn’t have.

The flight engineer offered a detailed explanation as he brought the four giant radial engines to life on the ramp. The roar is quite something, even from inside the airplane, and getting to watch the engineer work his magic is impressive.

Meg Godlewski enjoys the view from the bombardier seat not long after take off – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

As we taxi out under the call sign ‘Superfortress’ it is hard to forget that the airplane’s powerplants have a bit of a bad reputation, at least historically. The early model Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone engines had a bad habit of overheating on take off. If the pilots couldn’t get the airplane airborne fast enough they could – and often did – catch on fire. If crews didn’t land fast enough the fire would spread from the engine to the wing and, well, things didn’t get better from there.

The second B-29 prototype suffered that exact problem on a seemingly routine test flight in 1943, having departed Boeing Field off the same runway we’re now on. Unfortunately the crew was unable to return safely. The airplane crashed into a neighborhood just north of the runway – not even several hundred yards from where we are now – killing 10 on board and 21 on the ground. Later advances in engine tech ironed out those early issues, saving later crews and aircraft from a similar fate.

Pilot Mark Novak makes some final checks before departing Boeing Field – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Our takeoff, though, was thankfully comparatively uneventful, albeit thrilling. The incredible number of windows from floor to ceiling makes watching the takeoff a visual feast. It’s genuinely hard to decide what to look at: the runway, the flight engineer, or either of the pilots. It’s all fascinating.

The pilot guided the airplane to the left, threading between Boeing Field and Renton Municipal, before settling into a cruising altitude of 1,500 feet and a speed of 200mph. It’s a leisurely walk in the park for the airplane which, while in service, could hit altitude just shy of 32,000 and top speeds of over 350mph. This made it one of the faster bombers in the War, often able to fly higher and faster than enemy fighters.

Not long after setting a track north along scenic Lake Washington, the crew signals we can get up and look around. The space is not especially large, and the three of us journalists behind the pilots work to coordinate switching positions.

A passenger looks around in the forward bubble during flight – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren



Much like take-off, it’s hard to decide where to look. The view out front never gets boring, with the world lazily passing by below. A small window by the navigator table has a great view of the wing and the engines, and occasionally the flight engineer offers the chance to lean over him to see out his much larger – and open – window.

The crew offers us to take a seat in the mouth of the tunnel, the top of which is graced by a small bubble window that affords fantastic views of the airplane and the area around it. Since Doc never saw combat, it didn’t have the machine gun turret that normally would’ve been here. Same goes for the turrets below and in the aft section of the airplane. The only turret that remains is the tail gunner, with a pair a inert Browning machine guns standing duty.

Co-pilot Ken Newell cleans oil off the engines after a media flight at Boeing Field in Seattle on May 17, 2022 – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren


The interior is impeccably restored and almost immaculately clean. Of course, it’s not exactly completely vintage. The cockpit has modern navigational equipment, is ADS-B compliant (you can track her on Flightradar24 and get notifications from JetTip), and the aft compartment has a pair of TV screens with forward-facing views during flight for those in back.

Same too with many of the parts. At some point parts break and need to be replaced. The crew explains that the Air Force helps out often, allowing them to rummage through bone yards for vintage replacements where possible. When that fails, Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems often step in to help, custom-building parts and providing expertise. The airplane even has some 3D-printed parts in non-critical areas, something that the crews who first flew her back in the ’40s likely never conceived possible.

Toward the end of the flight we were lucky enough to swap for a seat in the coveted bombardier position for landing. There is no other seat like it in aviation, at least that we can think of.

The pilots greased the runway a few minutes later, and parked back where we started.

We had the chance to crawl through the tunnel after parking, and check out the aft compartment. Unlike many other warbirds, Doc’s passenger section is outfitted with actual seats. You can access the tail gunner position in flight, and those in back did, by crawling through the last ten feet or so. It’s tight, and that’s without the equipment and ammunition that would’ve been stored here during her service years.

Outside, the crew wiped her down and prepped her for a few days off before flying begins anew later this week.

Unfortunately for Pacific Northwest-based readers, flights aboard Doc during its Seattle visit are already sold out. They aren’t ruling out future flights being added if enough demand exists, though, so keep an eye on their website or give ’em a call over the weekend just in case.

If you absolutely have to fly on it and can’t make it work here, you can follow the airplane to any of its next stops on the tour. A full schedule is on their website.

Be forewarned, tickets are expensive. The least expensive seats, in the aft compartment of the airplane, go for $600. The forward compartment starts at $1,200 for the two in the cockpit and jumps to $1,500 for that sweet, sweet bombardier ride.

That’s not terribly surprising given the airplane burns $4-5,000 in oil and fuel alone per hour, according to the crew. It doubles after adding insurance, maintenance, and other costs, they said.

If that isn’t exactly in your budget, ground tours will be available Friday through the weekend; donations encouraged. Or simply pop by Boeing Field around 9am either weekend day and watch it head out for yourself.

You’ll be glad you did.


 

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 - this wasn't from our mountain-flying day, but it's too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article. Katie Bailey photo

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 – this wasn’t from our mountain-flying day, but it’s too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article

 

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

The lousy Pacific Northwest early spring weather notwithstanding, I’ve made good progress towards learning both the Garmin G1000 instrumentation and the Diamond DA-40 aircraft. We recently got a decent break in the weather that allowed a flight from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Ellensburg for some basic mountain flying training.

Cruising westbound at 6,500' over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience. Katie Bailey photo

Cruising westbound at 6,500′ over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience – Photo: Katie Bailey

I’ve got about 10 hours in the DA-40 now, all but one of them with Carl, my ever-patient CFI. I finally felt comfortable enough with the plane to take it out on my own last week, even though Carl had deemed me ready to do that about five flight hours previously. I just wanted a bit more time with the plane, as it’s quite a bit different than the Cessna 172, especially in that it’s a lot faster and a bit fussier when it comes to controls, and it’s got a constant-speed propeller (also sometimes referred to as a variable-pitch propeller) that needs tending to via a dedicated control lever.

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

Success! I finally earned my private pilot certificate!

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

After a year and a half of concerted effort, I’ve finally completed my initial training and earned my private pilot certificate in early November. It’s a great feeling!

For those who’ve been following along on my adventures at Galvin Flying, it’s been a long process of successes and setbacks, many of which were weather related because I live in the Pacific Northwest, where the local joke says that it only rains once a year — it starts raining in late October and stops raining on July 5 (it always seems to rain on July 4).

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go

In case you ever wondered what the track of a checkride looks like, here you go. Screen capture courtesy FlightRadar24

Anyway, I did several mock checkrides in the weeks leading up to the actual FAA one, and had to complete Galvin’s end-of-course checkride before that. The end-of-course checks are designed to be more difficult than the actual checkride to ensure that pilot candidates are as prepared as possible.

The FAA examiner, also known as a designated pilot examiner or DPE, selects from a long list of information and flight maneuvers for the actual checkride known as the Airman Certification Standards. The check airman who oversees the end-of-course checks runs through the entire list to be sure you’re ready.

Returning to Boeing Field after my first solo cross-country flight to Port Angeles, Wash. That's the Seattle skyline in the foreground, Bellevue in the middle-right, and the Cascade Mountains in the distance

Returning to Boeing Field after my first solo cross-country flight to Port Angeles, Wash. That’s the Seattle skyline in the foreground, Bellevue in the middle-right, and the Cascade Mountains in the distance

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

So, it’s been a while since I’ve written an update, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been making progress.

Since the last installment, I’ve done my three cross-country solo flights – they’re a requirement for the PPL, and consist of several solo flights away from one’s home airport. Cross-country meaning, you know, crossing the countryside and not a transcontinental flight in a small plane, which would take a couple days at best.

Requirements for the cross-country flights are that the each one has to include one leg of at least 50 nautical miles and a full-stop landing. For the long cross-county, the flight has to be a minimum of 150nm and include one leg of at least 50nm and full-stop landings at three airports, including returning to the point of origin.

For my flights, the first one was from Boeing Field (BFI) up to Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. It was a spectacular day – completely free of turbulence, hardly any other air traffic, and clear as the proverbial bell.

The second one was the following week, from BFI to Chehalis, Washington, a bit south of Olympia. It was far more normal, with usual amounts of air traffic and slightly bumpy/windy conditions.

That's me. In a plane. All by myself. Photo by Chuyi Chuang

That’s me. In a plane. All by myself. – Photo: Chuyi Chuang

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

I did it! I flew an airplane totally by myself over the Labor Day weekend. It was, in absolutely equal parts, terrifying and exhilarating.

Doing this was the culmination of a lifelong dream. Unlike a lot of airplane nerds, I don’t have any close family with ties to aviation. Instead, all of this started for me as a boy – my grandmother would take my brother and me to our little local general aviation (GA) airport in western Massachusetts, where we’d lie on the hood of her ’69 Beetle and watch skydivers while eating ice cream. My interest in planes waxed and waned over the years, but never really went away. There was a time when *gasp* I was afraid of flying – my first-ever flight experience was a very turbulent series of flights down the Atlantic Coast in the height of summer that put me off flying for a long time.

Fast forward to about a decade ago, when my wife got us a helicopter tour of Seattle for my birthday. The desire to fly returned with a vengeance. And the fear had long faded.

That's me, working through preflight checklists on the Galvin ramp. Photo by Chuyi Chuang

That’s me, working through preflight checklists on the Galvin ramp – Photo: Chuyi Chuang

Anyway, at a flight school like Galvin, periodic stage checks ensure students are properly prepared to advance to the next segment of training by having them work with different instructors, who both confirm the students’ competency and verify that the primary instructor has done their work properly. Some find the process cumbersome; for me the rigor is comforting.