'You ever hear an engine so sweet?:' Korean War veteran flies in B-29 bomber again

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Jonah Beleckis
Sunday, August 20, 2017

JANESVILLE—FIFI let out a sustained, booming roar Saturday morning at the Janesville Jet Center.

Ken Geiter was listening with a soft smile.

Geiter, who turned 85 on Wednesday, sat in the shade behind the crowd of people at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport to see FIFI, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber that was mostly used during the 1940s and 1950s.

The roar was just as Geiter remembered it.

Saturday was the first time Geiter heard the engines of a B-29 since he flew in the left gunner seat during the Korean War.

“You ever hear an engine so sweet?” he asked. “Just listen to that sound.”

The Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour brought one of only two airworthy B-29s in the world and other planes to Janesville this week offering tours and a handful of flights.

Although it's been a long time—early 1953—since Geiter heard a B-29 running in person, he said he enjoys watching videos of them on the internet. The longtime Janesville resident also went inside and toured the plane earlier in the week.

On Saturday morning, he was content sitting by himself and listening, but Geiter said he had his “fingers crossed” that he could get in the air, too.

Luck was with him.

Geiter found out he would be flying in the B-29—in his left gunner seat—at 10:30 a.m.

He called his wife of 56 years to give a brief update with a big smile.

“Hi,” he said. “I'm flying.”

While Geiter was waiting for the 9 a.m. group to return from their flight, he met Thomas E. Haas, who had his own personal connection to the B-29.

Haas, who will turn 102 next month, was a metal worker at the Boeing Experimental Shop in Seattle that built the first B-29. Haas, who lives in Janesville, was a B-17 crew chief who stayed stateside during World War II, his son said.

The B-29 was first flown in 1942 and began active service in 1944, according to the Commemorative Air Force. The B-29 is known for its missions over Japan at the end of World War II.

Geiter was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, during his service in the first half of the 1950s. He fondly recalled stories of his 13-man crew running dangerously low on fuel and helping show other crews how best to run, he said.

Geiter knows B-29 engines. FIFI doesn't start the same way the B-29s used to, he said. FIFI starts with engines three and four, while his crew used to start the plane with engines two and one.

But for all he remembers from more than 60 years ago, Geiter was able to hear and fly in the B-29 Saturday morning.

It's getting rarer for people who used to fly in the planes to visit the tour, said Bill Hickox, who helped run the event.

As Geiter walked across the runways to the plane, he mentioned his back problems. His crew wouldn't have to walk far because they would get a ride to the plane directly from the barracks, he said.

But Geiter was not focused on the pain. What he could hear mattered most to him.

“It's gonna be something I never forget,” he said.

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