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B-29 Superfortress touches down

The only still-flying World War II-era Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber touched down here Monday afternoon.

The plane, named Fifi, will be on display and available for tours and rides at Prior Aviation Service at Buffalo Niagara International Airport through Wednesday. The B-29 was used at the end of World War II and in the Korean War, and is best known as the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb.

"It's really kind of the holy grail of war birds," said Steve Swift, Fifi's co-pilot.

The plane is owned by the Commemorative Air Force, a Texas-based organization that strives to honor the men and women who built, operated and maintained the planes during World War II. The stop in Buffalo is part of a 33-day tour, which will continue in Hamilton, Ont.

Public viewing and cockpit tours are available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday. The cost is $10 for ages 12 and older; family admission is $20.

Development of the aircraft began in the late 1930s when the military needed a longer-range bomber. It was designed to replace the B-17s and B-24s.

The B-29 has a more powerful engine than its predecessors and a pressurized cockpit, said Paul Maupin, a scanner on the aircraft. The B-29s were used exclusively in the Pacific for the war against Japan and also in Korea.

Monday, viewers came onto the tarmac and lined the fence outside to watch the plane land. Among them was George Wilcox, of Williamsville, who served in the military as a flight engineer from 1944 to 1946. He said he spent his life building model airplanes and goes to air shows when he can. The war ended before he had a chance to fly the B-29.

Also on tour with the B-29 is a P-51D Mustang, the Brat III. The aircraft is owned by the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas.

For Swift, the B-29 co-pilot, one of the best parts of flying is that it puts into perspective what war was like for the veterans who flew the planes. He and the other members of the Commemorative Air Force have the opportunity to speak with veterans and hear their stories on the tour. He said it is amazing how much detail about the planes some of the veterans remember.

Kim Pardon, tour media liaison for organization, said Fifi represents American innovation and resourcefulness, and is a symbol of the heart of America.

"It's an icon for all it represents from World War II," she said.