MERIDIANVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — History will come roaring into Huntsville Executive Airport at the end of April.
The Commemorative Air Force will be bringing several iconic planes from World War II to the Executive Flight Center (360 Clyde Shelton Drive) starting Wednesday, April 27.
Highlighting the stop in Meridianville will be a B-29 Superfortress, named “Fifi,” and B-24 Liberator, named “Diamond Lil.”
The B-29, which entered service in 1944, was designed as a replacement for the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator – specifically with longer range and greater bomb capacity for the Pacific theater. The B-29 even saw service in the Korean War, remaining a mainstay of the U.S. Air Force fleet until the late 1950s.
The Commemorative Air Force acquired Fifi in the early 1970s, when a group of members found her at the U.S. Navy Proving Ground in China Lake, California, where she was being used as a missile target. She was rescued, restored, and flew for over 30 years until the chief pilot grounded her in 2006 for a total engine overhaul.
With new custom-built hybrid engines, Fifi took to the skies once again in 2010 and has toured the nation multiple times since.
Diamond Lil, the 25th Liberator produced and one of only two still flying, was originally supposed to be built for France before a contract change had her slated for Great Britain. However, when Trans World Airlines pilots were practicing landings at the Eagle’s Nest Flight Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in June 1941, the brake on the right landing gear locked up, sending the aircraft off the runway. The right gear and nose gear collapsed, damaging the bomb bay significantly.
Manufacturer Consolidated Aircraft Company recovered the aircraft over the next six months and restored it to flyable condition for a ferry flight to Consolidated’s San Diego headquarters. However, the plane was too badly damaged to see combat service. After Consolidated used the plane for research and development, it was sold to the Continental Can Company in 1948 and refit as an executive transport.
The plane’s career as an executive transport continued when Continental sold the Liberator to the Mexican state-owned petroleum company Pemex in 1959. Pemex decided to replace the B-24 with a Douglas DC-6 airliner in 1967, loaning the plane to the Commemorative Air Force, who acquired the plane outright in 1968.
Since then, Diamond Lil has flown all across the nation, with a brief stopover in heavy maintenance after a complete hydraulic failure and nose gear collapse at Charlotte in May 2012. Diamond Lil was made airworthy and flown back to Addison, Texas, returning to service more than a year later in July 2013.
Accompanying the B-29 and B-24 will be a P-51 Mustang, dubbed “Gunfighter;” a Boeing PT-13 Stearman, an open-air bi-plane; and a T-6 Texan, WWII’s standard trainer aircraft.
While the planes won’t be open to the public until Wednesday, you might hear them sooner. CAF officials said all the planes except the Mustang will be landing Monday, April 25. The Mustang will land Thursday night, April 28, and be open to the public on the Executive Flight Center ramp starting Friday, April 29.
The ramp will be open to the public from 9 a.m.-5 p.m each day through Sunday, May 1.
Rides aboard the B-24 are sold out, but the Sunday, May 1, 9 a.m timeslot aboard the B-29 still had open seats as of Sunday morning, April 17. Rides are also being offered aboard the P-51, Stearman, and T-6 during public hours. To book a ride, visit the Commemorative Air Force website.
When the B-24 and B-29 aren’t flying, volunteers will be giving free cockpit tours of the behemoths free with admission. Tours start at 9 a.m. during the week and at noon Saturday and Sunday.
Admission tickets can be purchased on-site prior to entering the ramp. Adult tickets (18 and over) cost $20, tickets for children 11-17 cost $10, with children 10 and under free.
April’s visit will be the second in two years for the CAF – the Gulf Coast Wing “Texas Raiders” brought a B-17 Flying Fortress and an AT-6 Texan to the airport last May.