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
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
Before this adventure I really only had one rule about
After this adventure
I added a second rule:
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
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
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:
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
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
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.
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
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
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 site.
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
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
Kha - News reporter from ABC - 9 in Tucson
Mr. Don Davis - Copilot
Ms. Karen Summers
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
Ramey - Observer - son of Dr. Henry Ramey
Mr. Henry Zappia - Mechanic - trouble shooter -
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.
never fly again. All extra personnel and unneeded
equipment were removed for this short field landing
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
Click on a Flight Station below for more
Click the back arrow on your browser to return....