B-29 Volunteers Burnish Memories on Restoration
Wichita Eagle 08/29/00 by Molly McMillin

In a hangar at Boeing Wichita, a "polishing party" brings together aficionados of the World War II Superfortress to nurture this one back to health.

Esther Gemas was 18 when she was a sheet-metal worker helping to help build B-29 heavy bombers at Boeing Wichita during World War II. On Monday, Gemas worked alongside her daughter-in-law, Mary Jo Gemas, as part of a team of volunteers who spent much of their day at a "polishing party," buffing the exterior of "Doc," a vintage B-29 Superfortress undergoing restoration in a Boeing Wichita hangar.

"It brings back old memories," said Gemas, as she worked on the tail section.

With the big band sounds of the 1940s playing in the background, volunteers used cheesecloth, a special polish and lots of elbow grease to rub off years of oxidation on the plane's exterior, returning it to its original shine.

Besides making the plane look good, "pragmatically, it helps us to identify areas prone to corrosion," said Dick Ziegler, a Boeing Wichita spokesman and the director of the project.

A team of volunteers is restoring the heavy bomber into flying condition in a partnership between Boeing and the Cleveland-based U.S. Aviation Museum.

The plane undergoing restoration spent some of its active time as part of a squadron of eight bombers known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, flying electronic countermeasures. The restoration project is expected to take 18 months to complete. So far, about 900 people, many of them Boeing retirees, have volunteered to work on the project. A variety of companies are donating materials and services.

Since the plane -- and its many pieces -- arrived by truck in May, volunteers have been working to inventory the array of parts, put tooling in place and begin the planning and engineering of the plane, said David Stein, the project's program manager. Other volunteers have been disassembling the four engines and their components for refurbishment, Stein said.

Much work lies ahead.

Each airplane part will be closely inspected for signs of corrosion or physical damage. The parts then will be refurbished before being reassembled. Marvin Story said he wanted to be part of the project as soon as he read about it in the newspaper. He saw his first B-29s as a boy in Pittsburgh, KS at a Fourth of July parade.

Now retired and in a wheelchair, Story spends his mornings in charge of the tool crib, passing out tool bits, drills, rivet guns and other tools as volunteers need them. "The pot of gold at the end of this rainbow," Story said with a smile and a nod toward the plane, "is the day we crank up the four engines."

Nothing had been done on Doc for 3 years. Now restoration has been resumed. Go the new web site for Doc here: