Key Productions
Tucson, Arizona
The following is a first person report on this project from 1979-80 by Director Mike Overstreet

 
   
 


























































































































































































































































































































































 

I think THE single most unusual, and educational, location shoot I've ever done was the story of the B-29 Bomber, It's Hawg Wild.

Abandoned in the desert at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in the middle of California after the Korean Police Action/Conflict/War, along with many others B-29's, Hawg Wild, s/n 44-61748, was, in my opinion, not much short of junk.  That she would some day fly at all, much less fly across the Atlantic Ocean on a 6,500 mile odyssey to it's new home at the Imperial War Museum/American Air Museum in Duxford England was much in doubt in my mind. 

She was built at Boeing Aircrafts Renton, Washington facility and delivered in May of 1945. 

I, on the other hand, was delivered in February of 1948 thus making this aircraft almost 3 years older than ME!

Before this adventure I really only had one rule about flying: 

  • Rule #1: I will never leave a fully functioning aircraft on purpose. 

After this adventure I added a second rule: 

  • Rule #2: I will never again fly in an aircraft older than I am. 



Owing to Japan's surrender, Hawg Wild did not go to the Pacific Theater as originally intended but later became part of the Strategic Air Command's 307th Bomber Group/Wing out of Kadena, Okinawa during the Korean War. 

She flew her first mission on August 8, 1950 and her last on July 26, 1953.

On that last mission the tail gunner was Jack Bernaciak, Central Fire Control Gunner was Paul Savko, the Radar/Shoran Operator was Ted Hesslin and the Bombardier was Paul O'Donnell.

Tail Gunner Jack Bernaciak wrote me saying "Our crew flew Hawg Wild (tail end charlie) the night prior to the signing of the truce. We learned about the truce on our way back from our mission. The Hawg therefore was the last B-29 to drop bombs over North Korea".


See what YOU think of her chances to cross a runway, much less the width of the states and then the Atlantic Ocean to England, as you look at the first views of this aircraft:

Aeroservices of Tucson, owned by Jack Kern, was a company that lived out on the west ramp at the Tucson airport and specialized in restoring old, usually military, aircraft.  In 1979 Jack won the contract to restore his third B-29.  One B-29, "Flagship 500", is now on static display at March Field Air Museum in California.  A second B-29 is the famous "FIFI", the only B-29 currently flying anywhere in the world.  It is owned by the Commemorative Air Force in Midland Texas.  The third B-29 was the "Hawg Wild", now on static display at the Imperial War Museum/American Air Museum in Duxford England.


It was a busy time.  I was in the process of closing out my time with CBS in Tucson and partnering up with my friends Skip Creiger and Henry Zappia on a number projects including starting my production company and going back and forth to shoot this B-29 project.
 
I must admit that I wasn't completely sure of our audience when we started video production on this project but this was clearly one of those once in a lifetime things that would attract an audience at some point.  Besides, Skip, who was to be the command pilot, and my very good friend, having spent a LOT of hours together shooting aerial video from a helicopter, said he wanted it documented and that was enough for me.

Skip was dating Sharon Kha, a newsperson from KGUN TV 9 ABC in Tucson, who went on the flight and thus there was a lot of coverage on that local Tucson channel.  As it turns out, due to an unforeseen tragedy that had nothing to do with the B-29, there was also a half-hour program about this last flight of a B-29 to cross the Atlantic and, several years later, a very poorly done independent documentary that was apparently put together for the Imperial War Museum turned up.

One of my early obstacles was that China Lake was a highly secret US Navy weapons testing base in the California desert.   But that's where the B-29's were.  As many as 50 of them at one point I'm told.  Being the type of facility it was, you can understand that the government didn't much care for cameras.  In fact there were signs all over the place suggesting that you would be buried in some deep dark hole and never seen again if you were caught with a camera.












 


I remember that I was on the aircraft the first time it left the ground and landed after its long nap in the California desert.  It was an accident really.  We were supposed to be doing a high speed taxi run test at China Lake one day in early November 1979.  Despite the best that Skip could do the aircraft kept drifting off the runway to the left.  This got a little serious at near rotate speeds and so, against plan, Skip lifted the plane off the ground, moved it back over the runway and set it down to keep us from running off into the desert.  Problem turned out to be low air pressure in the port nose gear tire.

 

Below is a picture of the young man credited with actually painting the nose art as well as other pictures during and after restoration.









 

Now I've mentioned elsewhere that Henry Zappia was a jack of all trades.  It was of particular importance that Henry was the holder of an A & P (Airframe & Power Plant) license required by the FAA to maintain and repair aircraft

I remember Henry on a work stand next to the #3 engine of the Hawg Wild, in that relatively narrow space between the rotating prop and the wing leading edge trying to tune the engine while it was running.  This was the engine that has since been described as having an "unfortunate appetite for oil."  From where I was shooting about 40 feet away I was sure I was going to video tape an "ass-ectomy" because there wasn't much room between the rotating prop and Henry's behind, but Henry knew what he was doing.  He always does.

I remember going up in the twin engine Beechcraft King Air that the project was using to shoot another high speed taxi run from the bathroom window at the left rear of the plane (you can see that window in the following picture of another King Air).  J.R. Kern, the Project Managers son and a mechanic on the crew, managed to let a local stray cat get on board the King Air.  That cat got scared and took a dump in the plane and that, combined with the full flap low speed effort to observe the B-29 at the beginning of the run, made EVERYONE air sick.  Me perhaps even more so than the others because my head was buried in the camera view finder which always causes a loss of spatial orientation.  I remember getting off the King Air and actually laying on the tarmac....but I got the video.



As I researched my video, files, memory and the internet to fill in the pieces to this story I had a major surprise.  Two pictures of ME on the internet.  Now I admit that you're going to have to stretch your imagination a bit and you'll have to take my word for it, but these were very exciting finds for me.

This first photo is the most exciting find since I'd never even known about it.  Here you'll see engine #1 being run up after the aircraft had been moved to its own pad nearer to the active runways for eventual taxi and flight testing.

I don't know who the videographer is in the foreground safely off of the pad but the extremely handsome young man on the pad in the dark shirt and jeans, about even with the aircraft nose, is ME, with the camera to my shoulder.  The pretty lady to my left holding the recording deck was Joanna Zappia, Henry's wife.  The skinny dude to the left of us was J.R. Kern (remember the cat?), the son of Jack Kern, whose Tucson based company was the contractor on the restoration.   Finally, you can see Skip's head sticking out of the Pilot's window.  This would have been late October or early November 1979.


The second photo I found was this aerial photo and I remember when it was taken.



As the China Lake part of the project was winding down, and the flight to Tucson for final flight restoration for the trip to England grew nearer, a variety of Military Brass started paying more attention.  Great press for them.  I remember the day this "Official U.S. Navy Photo" was taken.  This ceremony included press people and Brass galore as well as a Huey circling taking "official" photos.  Until now I had never seen this photo but clearly remember seeing the Huey with the Navy Photographer sitting in the open door.  Skip, Henry, Jack Kern and his son and others who labored over this project from the beginning were there.  And so was I, shooting video.  We are the group of people directly in front of the nose of the bomber.  In this picture you can also see the King Air chase plane on the same pad.

Speaking of that pad shown above.  There were several of them, mostly empty, around the general area.  Another memory was the Navy flying in a "Top Secret" helicopter and landing it on the pad next to us to wash and perform some light maintenance.  Today, everyone knows the Bell AH-1 Cobra Helicopter.  It was the United States first serious attack helicopter carrying missiles, rockets, cannon and machine guns.  However, back in the days of the B-29 project, it was still Top Secret.  I clearly remember the very up-tight military contingent with M-16 rifles assigned to keep the snooping civilians on the next pad (that would be us) away from the Cobra.  I also remember one man in particular who apparently had been assigned to watch my every move all day long in case I tried to point my camera anywhere near that helicopter.  Wherever I was that day, he was between me and the Cobra.



     



On November 16, 1979 I taped the final take off from China Lake from the King Air, we flew chase until Tucson air space and then rushed ahead to document the Tucson flyby and eventual landing.  I thought there was a reasonable chance that I'd be video taping the first crash of a B-29 ever in Tucson.  Henry had a video camera in the B-29 and I had a total of 5 cameramen on the ground....but Skip managed to both show off and land like he had been flying B-29's all his life....it was a beautiful sight.

 

Work continued on the aircraft from arrival in Tucson on November 16, 1979 until departure for England on February 17, 1980.

Shown below are two shots taken in January, 1980 of flight tests around the Tucson area.





The trip from Tucson to Duxford England is a story unto itself.  A story I don't feel competent to relate since I wasn't on it.  Scheduling conflicts and my newly coined Rule #2 (above) prevented me from going.  Suffice it to say that this aircraft wasn't all that it was when it left the Boeing plant and it wasn't a very good looking aircraft as you've seen.  The trip was long, with several stops for maintenance.  The crew had many hardships not the least of which was numbing cold, difficult navigation and the #3 engines unfortunate appetite for oil.  That the aircraft made it at all seems like a minor miracle to me.  But when you consider the caliber of the men on this project I guess it was a miracle that was meant to be.

A young man named Taigh Ramey, whose father was the Navigator on the trip, DID go and his web site gives more information about that historic flight.

Leaving Tucson on February 17, 1980 and arriving at it's final destination in Duxford on March 2nd, Ken Kroeger provides the following Crew Manifest and some flight log notes for the last flight of the B-29 It's Hawg Wild
:

 

Mr. Skip Cregier - Command Pilot
Ms. Sharon Kha - News reporter from ABC - 9 in Tucson
Mr. Don Davis - Copilot
Ms. Karen Summers - Observer
Mr. Jack Kern - Engineer -owner of Aero Services of Tucson, AZ and restoration project officer
Mrs. Millie Kern - Wife of Jack Kern
Dr. Henry Ramey - Navigator - former B-29 navigator during WWII
Mr. Taigh Ramey - Observer - son of Dr. Henry Ramey
Mr. Henry Zappia - Mechanic - trouble shooter - videographer
Mrs. Joann Zappia - Wife of Henry Zappia
Mr. Ken Kroeger - Observer - still photographer
Mr. James Miller - Observer


Notes on the flight:
2/17 - Tucson - Flint - 10,000 VFR
2/18 - Flint - Loring - 9,000 VFR
2/19 - 2/23 - Loring
2/24 - Loring - Gander - 10,000 VFR
2/25 - Gander - Greenland - 12,000
2/26 - Greenland - Iceland - 14,000
2/27 - 2/29 - Iceland
3/1 - 3/2 - England










This is the final landing of the Hawg Wild at the Imperial War Museum runway in Duxford England. 
It will never fly again.  All extra personnel and unneeded equipment were removed for this short field landing attempt.

The photo on the right is an enlargement of the center photo at touchdown.  Look at the highlighted person on the right. That would be Henry video taping the landing. With the port wing OVER him, the #1 prop way too close to him and, if I were to read into it more than was probably there, Skip lifting the port wing just a bit to make sure Henry was clear.  That is Sharon Kha on the ground behind Henry.



 
 
The Aircraft



diagram of B-29
diagram of B-29

                            Click on a Flight Station below for more information.