Thousands welcome Doc back to IYK

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Thousands welcome Doc back to IYKOne of only two remaining flightworthy B-29s, and a former “celebrity” aircraft of the Indian Wells Valley, was welcomed by thousands of fans during a two-day stay at Inyokern Airport.

The B-29 Superfortress, nicknamed “Doc,” was one of about 4,000 of that model built during World War II. The aircraft is known not only for its immense size, but also because it was the same model as the Enola Gay, used to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan.

With the eventual surrender of Japan, Doc was retired in 1951. In 1955 the aircraft was relocated to China Lake to be used for target training exercises.

In 1987 Tony Mazzolini discovered the aircraft, and became making plans to remove it from the base and return it to flying status.

In 1998 the plane was famously towed across the valley to rest at Inyokern Airport, where the restoration process would begin. Hundreds of volunteers came out to assist.

Mazzolini subsequently realized that the effort commanded more resources than he possessed, and in 2000 Doc was sold to an owner in Wichita, Kan. — where it had originally been assembled more than 50 years before.

So closed our local chapter of Doc’s history. But the followers he gained during his time in the valley continued to monitor progress. On July 17, 2016, Doc took his first flight in decades.

The following year Doc began the airshow touring circuit. Earlier this year, “Friends of Doc” announced that he would take a West Coast tour — including a stop in the Indian Wells Valley. But with new owners citing logistical and financial challenges, the IWV was cut from the tour.

But on Wednesday, Oct. 2, Mike Cash announced at the Ridgecrest City Council meeting that Doc was scheduled to land at IYK on Oct. 7 and stay until Oct. 9. Although maintenance issues staggered the schedule, Doc’s arrival was heralded by a bevy of photos and video capturing his reappearance Tuesday afternoon.

“I was in the follow-me-truck when Doc came into the airport, and my hair was just standing on end the whole time,” said said IYK General Manager Scott Seymour.

“Knowing what a game-changer this aircraft was for the mission, knowing the history and outcome and everything the B-29 represents, just makes a powerful impression.

“And then knowing that there are only two of these in the whole world that fly, and that one of them came here, is pretty amazing.”

Seymour said that the public interest demonstrated over social media was actualized by the crowds that came out. People paid up to $1,600 for a seat on one of the scheduled rides.

“They were actually sold out within a day of tickets going online,” said Seymour. “In fact they probably could have sold out a couple more flights.”

Even if you didn’t ride on the plane, Seymour noted citizens watched as it made low passes over the valley.

“Mike Cash did a great job. Steve Morgan put a lot of work into this. There are people who made donations — cash and in-kind — who helped make this happen.

“To pull this off on such short notice is pretty dang incredible.”

Watch next week’s edition for a first-person perspective on one of Doc’s flights.

Pictured: Doc gives a morning ride to a handful of lucky ticket-holders. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-10-11