National Geographic : 2003 Dec
WICHITA, KANSAS made elsewhere, Enola Gay and Bockscar, dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan to surrender.) Only one B-29 still flies. Named Fifi, it follows the air-show circuit from its home base in Midland, Texas. Another, nicknamed Doc after the Snow White character painted on its nose, may soon join it. Doc, one of 1,644 B-29s turned out by Wichita, was lucky, surviving a lowly postwar career as a target for bombing practice. An airline executive found Doc mothballed in the Cal ifornia desert and trucked it to Wichita, where restoration is underway. He may make it a flying exhibit with Wichita as its home base-the ardent hope of locals working to restore the plane. "We wore overalls, and bandannas to keep our hair from getting tangled up in the tools," says Connie Palacioz, who originally worked on Doc in the '40s. "I was 18 when I began here, and I put most of the rivets in Doc's cab section." Now a ginger-haired woman of 78 and a volunteer in the restoration effort, Palacioz stands at a table energetically stripping the grime off small metal parts with steel wool. Today a new riveter on the scene, a behemoth known as a Computer Numerical Controlled Machine, works up to ten times faster than humans. It comes with a kind of cockpit of its own, equipped with video and computer screens and an array of controls that a rangy man named Shawn Smith plays like a video game. Under the machine's stout blue arches lie the rounded panels of a 767 fuselage. As Smith punches but tons, a video screen shows an extreme close-up of tools drilling holes, Prime mover of the area's economy, Boeing's plant Is a major facility for one of the world's two commer cial aviation giants. The other, Airbus, has opened an engineering office in downtown Wichita to tap the local labor pool.