DuPage Airport to showcase a piece of history at Community Days Weekend
Sitting in the cockpit of FIFI, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, David Oliver must keep his wits about him and remain focused on the task at hand.
But then there are the times when the 30-year-old pilot looks around and realizes he's sitting in a piece of history, and the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that comes with that realization hits him all at once.
Oliver says riding his bike to the airport at 15 for lessons and being the "airport brat," who stuck his head in everyone's hangar and hung around airplanes, brought him to where he is today — the youngest person to fly a B-29, the World War II aircraft that is best known for dropping the world's first atomic bombs on Japan.
And part of that role requires Oliver to travel the country and show people inside the only model that remains flying, take them up for rides and educate them about what he calls the greatest generation.
"It's extremely important for us to tell those stories because a lot of our veterans are passing away," Oliver said. "We're losing a face of history. If we don't preserve the story, the history will pass away."
Oliver and the Commemorative Air Force will tell the story at the DuPage Airport Authority's Community Days Weekend, set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11 and 12, at the DuPage Airport in West Chicago.
FIFI will be the main attraction, offering flights to attendees at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Guided tours also will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day; cockpit tours are $5 with a separate fee for flights.
The Cavanaugh Museum's P-51 Mustang, The Brat III, also will have flights scheduled throughout the day.
In addition, visitors will get the chance to view static displays of tenant aircraft and vintage ground equipment and military vehicles.
"Community Days is a way for us to open the facility to the public," said David Bird, executive director of the DuPage Port Authority. "People are interested in aviation. We definitely feel like it's beneficial to us to help promote aviation to the public."
And promoting aviation is more important now than ever — there's been a recent period where the number of flight hours and trained pilots have declined, Bird said, but there are forecasts that up to 500,000 pilots may be needed in the near future.
"We want to see aviation continue to grow," Bird said. "There's a market that needs to be filled."
And perhaps FIFI can be that force to help people appreciate the industry.
The airplane was found in the early 1970s in a Navy yard, where it was used for missile target practice.
It's the Commemorative Air Force's mission to have one of every World War II aircraft in its collection — and a B-29 happened to be missing from that. The organization rescued it and it's been flying for 40 years now.
"We think the story about the plane is best told when it flies because you can hear the engine, smell the exhaust, see it doing what it was meant to do," said Kim Pardon, tour media correspondent at the Commemorative Air Force.
Oliver was a contract pilot in Afghanistan before joining the Commemorative Air Force. So it comes as no surprise that he feels strongly about sharing the stories of veterans with communities.
Oliver said, many times, veterans are wary of stepping inside the aircraft again — they're not sure they're ready to be reminded of the war and brought back to that time in their lives.
But as soon as they take off, Oliver sees smiles spread across their faces, and sometimes even tears in their eyes.
"The airplane is really a giant time machine," he said. "It takes them back to that time. It evokes a lot of strong emotions."
The experience can be summed up for Oliver with one recollection: at one event, a young girl stood near the airplane peppering a World War II veteran with questions — What was it like? What did you eat? Were you scared?
"It really embodied what it means to pass on the story to the next generation," he said.
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