ESSEX, MD. -- A chance to glimpse the vintage B29 Superfortress named "Fifi" drew some veteran pilots who reminisced about the the last surviving World War II airborne bomber of its type.
"It's been 35 years since I've seen one," Henry Pettit, 65, of Upper Marlboro, said of the B29 at Glenn L. Martin State Airport.
He had been a flight engineer on B29 raids against Japan in 1945. "It brings back a lot of memories," most of them scary, he said last weekend.
The vintage bomber, with its 141-foot wingspan, drew about 100 people at the airport's Strawberry Point airfield as part of the display sponsored by the Confederate Air Force, a private Texas group that restores and maintains aircraft made between 1939 and 1945. The organization has 7,000 members in 50 states and 24 foreign countries.
Also on display was a B24 Liberator with the name of "Diamond Lil," a Lockheed C60 Lodestar and a World War II-era training airplane.
Hank Hoeckel, 62, of Baltimore brought with him photographs of his B24's 10-member crew that flew during the war. He had been a gunner and at age 20 was sent to Nebraska during the war to train on what was then a new bomber, replacing the B24 his crew had flown over Germany.
But Hoeckel said his crew's chance to see combat in the B29 was lost when the bombing of Nagasaki ended the war.
Paul Schlachter, a flight engineer aboard "Fifi," said flying the propeller-driven bomber was "like driving an old Mack truck. You really have to horse it around."
Flying "Fifi" today is also expensive, at an estimated $2,500 for every hour of flight. The group sells a variety of souvenirs, posters, caps, pins and booklets to pay for its operations.
"People say the bombers are an instrument of war," said Patrick Moloney of Parkville, Md., as he watched "Fifi." "I say they are the instrument that won the war. It is like seeing an old friend."