Doc’s Special Airworthiness Certificate
The issuance of a single Special Airworthiness Certificate for an Experimental aircraft, a B-29 to be flown for exhibits is rarely (never?) a newsworthy event. The issuance of such a document for this historic plane generated local coverage.
Much of the reporting, properly, focused on the efforts of the private sector (which will be repeated here), but this post will also give credit to the FAA participants.
Its significance as an artifact is explained by these facts:
- Boeing’s Wichita plant turned out 1,644 of the airplanes for the WWII efforts.
- The B-29 was the bomber which flew the missions dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- This aircraft was assigned to a squadron known as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- The Army Air Forces accepted Doc on March 23, 1945.
- This bomber flew until 1956 when it was sent to the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons range in the Mojave Desert.
The story line then moves to the efforts of Tony Mazzolini, Josh Wells, Jim Murphy, tens of thousands of Doc’s Friends’ volunteer hours and individual contributions. The plane was located in the Mohave Desert where it was being used for target practice. That was 1987; it took three years to get the bomber released from the US government in 1990. It was then determined that the Doc needed significant restoration and decided to ship it by truck to Wichita, KS.
The massive job of making the old bird airworthy began in 2000 with Spirit Aerospace donating a hangar for the work. Doc’s Friends was formed in 2013 and became the legal entity for the necessary contributions. The founders were (Charlie Chandler, Jack Pelton, Steve Clark, Lynn Nichols, Brad Gorsuch, Vic McMullen, Ron Ryan, Tim Buchanan, Jeff Peier, Esq., and Tom Bertels) who are the Who’s Who of that Kansas aviation community. The list of individual contributors is impressive.
Sixteen years of hard work, truly labors of love, by aviation professionals transformed this abandoned airframe into a beautiful aircraft. This elite cadre included work on the original B-29 line at Boeing in Wichita, crew members who had served on the B-29 model and former or active employees of Spirit AeroSystems.
The airframe required major analytical assessment of all of the plane’s structures and systems. Based on that diagnosis, a very detailed set of work cards was written for this major overhaul. The patience and technical expertise of these Doc’s Friends is impressive. One of the most challenging tasks was reworking the fueling lines and control systems. The four massive engines had to be completely rebuilt.
All of that is worthy of high praise, but the work of the FAA certificate staff gets little mention in the public accounts. It is not until the FAA exercises its statutory obligations can the Doc be flown.
FAR 21.191 is the statement of jurisdiction and the request for the applicant to provide a description of the plan for showing compliance with Part 21. 14 CFR § 21.903 establishes the process. It begins with the applicant submitting a detailed form with the intended use of the plane, expected hours to be flown, pictures of the plane to be certificated and other information. Advisory Circular 21-54 is the detailed statement of the process, policies and requirements for information and guidance concerning special airworthiness certification in the experimental category of certain former military aircraft.
Messrs. Hawley, Rainey (who signed the CofA) and their staffs spent many hours reviewing the applicants’ submissions, evaluating the data provided, designing further tests and examining the actual results on the subject airplane. With this former military aircraft, the regulators had to be involved more than with standard Part 21 applications. There was no civil certification basis for the original aircraft. Consequently, the Aircraft Certification Office had to make major decisions as to what current standards are required for the B-29, what adjustments to the criteria are warranted and what rules might be “exempted.” Making those discretionary calls necessitated the use of considerable judgment and command of the rules (particularly, understanding the intent behind the safety considerations and thus how they should be applied to Doc).
The FAA managers and staff should be recognized for their work and expertise in guiding the restoration of Doc. Those major contributions to the Certificate’s issuance are critical predicates to eventual flight of this beautiful, historic B-29 bomber.
The joint public/private efforts should be lauded and their work product appreciated.
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