Rare planes prompt memories for Tri- Cities residents

  By Jennifer Lassiter
  star staff

  BLOUNTVILLE -- Returning to the pristine blue skies once more, "Fifi" and "Diamond 'Lil'", nostalgic World War II planes, drew the attention of pilots, veterans and history buffs in the region Tuesday morning.
  Harry Young, who was a flight engineer on a B-24A 62 years ago, couldn't resist the opportunity to come and view "Diamond 'Lil" at the Tri-Cities airport. One of the first to arrive for the week-long display, Young was there specifically to see the "Liberator".
  Chances were slim that he flew the exact plane, since 18,859 bombers were built during the war, but only two remain in flight capability today. Young had to see for himself.
  Young brought his hopes along with a tattered flight log book he kept as a 25-year-old pilot with dreams of reuniting with an old friend. The dingy yellow pages and faded forest green cover of the small book told the story of his flights long ago. With the dates, serial numbers and miles to prove his stories, he was hoping the numbers would match.
  Quickly flipping through the pages and following the charted numbers across the page with his finger, Young discovered that the plane displayed was not the one he flew many moons ago. It's serial number was shy a mere 11 digits. Col. Jim Stewart, who pilots the planes, said the two were probably on the same assembly line and in the same building together.
  Although it wasn't the exact plane it was no disappointment for Young to see the replica, which is still a work in process. "Diamond 'Lil'" still holds the original two-tone paint color to camouflage as it passes over cities - a tan color on top to blend in while parked in the desert and sky blue underneath to hide it while in the sky.
  "Age has a way of catching up with people as well as airplanes," said Young.
  Young was stationed in Alberque, N.M. in the early 1940s working for TWA. During the early part of the war, the Air Force contracted TWA to train pilots to fly planes like the B-24 Liberator.
  The Commemorative Air Force owns and operates the oldest B-24 type aircraft in existence. It was the 25th of over 18,000 built.
  According to Col. Stewart the bomber planes were built for the Royal Air Force of Great Britain. Early production models of the B-24 were delivered to the British with the first six off the line known as LB-30A's.
  With a gross weight of 58,000 pounds and a fuel capacity of 3,000 gallons it's nothing short of amazing that these propellor operated planes can take off and travel at a top speed of 275 mph.
  The Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a non-profit group, travels the country bringing the B-24; the 142,000-pound B-29 which is the world's only flying "Superfortress" bomber, and a replica of the "Enola Gay" the plane which dropped the atomic bomb, to cities around the country.
  Better known as "Fifi", the B-29 was the first plane to ever have a pressurized cabin. This enabled pilots and crew members to wear everyday clothes. It was also the first combat plane to have a computerized gun control system.
  Edsel Fleenor, a Kingsport native, worked on a B-29 for four years during the Korean War as a maintenance engineer. He wanted his sister who was only seven during the war to see "Fifi". As crew chief, he still bears scars from working on the 142,000-pound plane with four wright cyclone engines.
  "Never wear rings while working on plane engines; there are many places you can get your finger hung," said Fleenor. A chipped left elbow, a result of changing a bolt on a B-29 cylinder, is proof of the concentration needed to work on these massive beasts.
  The Commemorative Air Force will display the rare vintage aircraft through Sunday Aug. 22 from 9 a.m. through 6 p.m. at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport. Admission for adults is $10, and ages 7 to 18 is $5. Those under the age of 7 are admitted free. Rides will be offered on the B-24 or P-51. Call to register at (864) 877-8269.