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This month in history: B-29 takes maiden flight

ELLSWORTH AFB, S.D. -- Late September, 1942, Seattle saw the maiden flight of the aircraft destined to end World War II and become the same type of aircraft Ellsworth would send on its first deployment as a separate Air Force. 

The B-29 Superfortress, the largest bomber fielded in World War II, didn't make its combat debut until nearly two years after its initial flight. 

The four-engine bomber featured many advanced technological features for the early 1940s. It housed an emergency rear pilot station, in case the front pilot was incapacitated, and it held the first radar bombing system of any bomber aircraft in the U.S. arsenal. 

In June 1944, the U.S. aerial forces in the Pacific were finally on the offensive against the Japanese home islands when B-29s attacked Honshu. According to, these aerial attacks were "a huge morale booster" for American combatants, who were finally striking back at the enemy on their home soil. 

The capture of the Marianas in the summer of 1944 gave the Army Air Forces operating bases only 1,300 miles from Tokyo. 

"B-29s from Guam, Saipan, and Tinian could reach all of the major cities in Japan, including the big industrial cities on Honshu," said Mr. Ryan Warner, 28th Bomb Wing historian. "[They] operated at altitudes too high for Japanese fighters to stop them." 

Mr. Warner said Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko, Commander in Chief of Home Defense Headquarters, even testified after the Japanese surrender that "the war was lost when the Marianas were taken away from Japan and when we heard the B-29's were coming out. . . . we had nothing in Japan that we could use against such a weapon." 

August 6 and August 9, 1945, firmly etched the B-29 in history. The Enola Gay and Bock's Car dropped the first, and only, nuclear weapons used in combat finally forcing the Japanese Empire to capitulate. The surrender was announced August 14, and officially signed September 2. 

Ellsworth's history is shared with the B-29 when "Project Looker" was initiated. 

Rapid City Air Force Base, before its name was officially changed to Ellsworth, deployed B-29s to Royal Air Force, Scampton, England as a deterrent against communist aggression during "Project Looker" in support of the Berlin Airlift. This was the base's first deployment as a separate Air Force. 

"In July 1948, the 28th Bomb Group arrived at RAF Scampton with thirty B-29 bombers," Mr. Warner said. "The aircraft were all in place by July 19th, and remained at RAF Scampton until the deployment terminated on October 9th." 

Mr. Warner said this show of force mission kept the Soviets at bay with the perceived threat of nuclear weapons in their own backyard. 

"Although Ellsworth's B-29s couldn't carry nuclear weapons, the sheer presence aided the constant flow of supplies to the beleaguered city of Berlin during the airlift," he said. 

The two historical B-29s that ended World War II are on display as a part of America's airpower heritage. Bock's Car is located at the National Museum of the Air Force outside of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and the Enola Gay is located at the Steven F. Udvar - Hazy Center in Chantily, Va. 

But, local history buffs don't have to travel very far to see a genuine B-29.

A B-29 is located in the airpark of the S.D. Air and Space Museum, just outside Ellsworth's main gate. It's designated "Legal Eagle II," and is fashioned after the original B-29 named "Legal Eagle", which participated in the "Project Looker" deployment. 

A photo of the original B-29 named "Legal Eagle" can be found in the heritage hallway of 28th Bomb Wing headquarters. 

For more information on Ellsworth's B-29 legacy, visit the S.D. Air and Space Museum just outside of Ellsworth's main gate or call the 28th Bomb Wing historian's office at (605) 385-6430.