When talking about the 2018 Great Bend Municipal Airport Airfest coming next September, Great Bend Community Coordinator Christina Hayes gets pretty excited. The fest is scheduled for Sept. 28-30 at the airport west of town.
“2018 will be our biggest Airfest yet,” she said. “This is mainly because we have two major, major aircraft that will be coming to town.”
During the last event in 2015, the only flying Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Fifi, was present and offered rides to fest attendees. But at the time, a second B-29, Doc, was under restoration.
Well, Doc’s restoration is done. So, now, “we have confirmed that both Fifi and Doc will be in 2018 in Great Bend,” Hayes said.
“Doc and Fifi have only been together one other time,” she said. “So this will be a national event. It’s pretty exciting news.”
Although both planes will fly into Great Bend, rides will only be available on Fifi. Doc will be only a static display.
The B-29 holds a special place in Great Bend history. The airport sits on what was a training base for B-29 bomber crews during World War II.
“This is pretty exciting news,” Hayes said.
Other planes to be at the airfest include:
• North American Aviation P-51 Mustang fighter
• Boeing PT-13 Stearman (rides will be for sale)
• North American Aviation T-6 Texan trainer (rides will be for sale)
• Beechcraft C-45 Expeditor (rides will be for sale)
• Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star (will be doing an air show)
• Tora 101 Japanese Zero replica (will be doing an air show)
• Grumman C-1A Miss Belle cargo plane
• Douglas C-47 Spooky gunship
“It’s going to be a big deal,” said airport Manager Martin Miller. The 2018 show will include: The same number, if not more, air show performances; the big band dance featuring the Ladies of Liberty singers and local musicians led by Mark Webster; and more.
Admission fees, a full schedule of events and other details will be announced later, Miller said. Sponsorships are being sought.
But, 2018 means more to Miller and Great Bend. “It marks the 75th birthday of the Great Bend Army Airfield,” he said.
Great Bend Army Air Field is significantly historic as it was in the first group United States Army Air Forces B-29 Superfortress bases for initial training on the aircraft in the summer of 1943. Along with Walker Army Air Field near Victoria, Pratt Army Air Field near Pratt and Smoky Hill Army Air Field near Salina, the initial cadre of the 58th Bombardment Wing was formed.
The 58th Bomb Wing was the first B-29 combat wing of World War II and engaged in the first long-range strategic bombardment of the Japanese home islands beginning in March 1944 from bases in India.
Among other missions, B-29s dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to end the war in the Pacific.
The base was closed in 1946. Today it is used as Great Bend Municipal Airport.