December 29th, 2011
There is currently a very unusual sight outside Seattle’s Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, a shrink-wrapped WW2 era Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber known as “T-Square 54“! This is the first time since 2003 that the aircraft has been publicly displayed (albeit in shrink-wrap).
This valuable aircraft has been cocooned to protect it from natures elements as the museum currently has no room inside for such big aircraft. The hanger it was being restored in was being demolished so they had to leave. There is another WW2 bomber outside, a Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress that was put on display earlier in 2011 (it is apparently flyable and was used for many years as a crop duster and also appeared in movies such as Memphis Belle in 1990. Restoration began way back in 1991), but it has not been cocooned in shrink-wrap (they just put covers over the glass and engines to protect it from inclement weather).
These aircraft and others will remain outside until a new large display building is constructed, not ideal but the museum requires the funding first. A Kiro TV news report on December 13th, 2011 indicated approximately $300 million would be required to expand the museum, so it is obviously going to take a while to raise that kind of money!
My visit today to see the B-29 “T-Square 54” left me wanting to find out more about the history of the bomber, from its operational history to how it ended up in Seattle. I was able to find out some basic information from the museum on it’s WW2 history, but then while doing further research I came across the T-54: The Last B-29 website which had a lot of information on this particular airframe and it has had an interesting life!
The bomber was operated in the Pacific from Saipan Island during WW2 (1944-1945), undertaking 37 bombing missions against Japan and was assigned to the 875th Bomb Squadron, 498th Bomb Group, 73rd Bomb Wing of the 20th Air Force. The bomber was converted in 1949 to a KB-29 aerial refueling tanker for the Korean War. After Korea the aircraft was retired to China Lake Naval Gunnery Range in the California desert.
“T-Square 54” was recovered in 1986 and partially restored by 1987 in Denver, Colorado by the Lowry Air Force Base Heritage Museum. In 1993 after the air base was closed the B-29 was loaned to the Museum Of Flight by the National Museum of the United States Air Force (this is an excellent and massive museum in Dayton, Ohio which I was lucky enough to visit in 2009. I ended up being one of the first in and the last out on that day, they were literally turning lights out behind me as I left!).
Both the B-17 and B-29 at the Museum Of Flight were restored by volunteers, who have spent tens of thousands of hours to restore the aircraft to the most accurate of standards. The B-29 is 90% restored and the project is pretty amazing given they started with a scrapped airframe that had been dumped at California’s China Lake in the 1950’s destined for military target practice (luckily it was one of the least damaged)!
Once fully restored the B-29 will not fly again, it is destined for static display only. I look forward to seeing “T-Square 54” in her former glory someday.