Hill Aerospace Museum’s B-29 Superfortress gets historical makeover

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The nickname “Straight Flush” is decortated on the nose of a B-29 Stratofortress on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum Aug. 27, 2019, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Museum staff, volunteers and contractors completed a three-year exterior restoration of the aircraft this summer to preserve the airframe, as well as display markings and insignia to accurately represent a famed B-29 that trained for top secret operations from Wendover Field during World War II. (Air Force photograph by Todd Cromar)

A static display at the Hill Aerospace Museum received a major makeover this summer.

Museum staff, volunteers and contractors completed an exterior restoration of a B-29 Superfortress to preserve the airframe, as well as display markings and insignia to accurately represent the famed B-29 nicknamed “Straight Flush” that trained for top secret operations from Wendover Field during World War II.

Aaron Clark, Hill Aerospace Museum director, said the aircraft’s new appearance is intended to reflect the museum’s collection tie to Hill Air Force Base and the state of Utah, one of the primary objectives for the museum.

“Because of our museum mission, we felt it was prudent that this static display represent a historically significant aircraft, with direct ties to Wendover Field, Hill Air Force Base, and World War II to educate the public on this rich local story,” Clark said.

The previous paint scheme on the B-29 represented a different mission, unit, and airframe. It took more than three years to restore the aircraft. Exterior work included sanding the aircraft to the bare aluminum, extensive corrosion control, sheet metal work, and more.

A B-29 Stratofortress on display at the Hill Aerospace Museum Aug. 27, 2019, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Museum staff, volunteers and contractors completed a three-year exterior restoration of the aircraft this summer to preserve the airframe, as well as display markings and insignia to accurately represent the famed B-29 nicknamed “Straight Flush” that trained for top secret operations from Wendover Field during World War II. (Air Force photograph by Todd Cromar)

Clark said the majority of the unique markings exhibited on Straight Flush for the restoration were stenciled and painted by hand to replicate the application and look of the original airframe.

The storied history surrounding Straight Flush began in 1944 when the U.S. Army Air Force activated the 509th Composite Group, a unit assigned the duty of providing training in atomic warfare and nuclear weapons. Soon after, the 509th received fifteen of the distinctive Silverplate B-29s and trained at Wendover Field, Utah – once a satellite of Hill Field.

The term Silverplate was assigned to B-29s that were modified to carry and deliver the atomic bomb.

One of the Silverplate B-29s, later nicknamed Straight Flush, arrived at Wendover Field April 2, 1945, and had an integral part in the Enola Gay’s mission to drop the bomb on Hiroshima. The aircraft earned its nickname for its pilot Capt. Claude “Buck” Eatherly and his affection for gambling.

The B-29 Superfortress nicknamed “Straight Flush” and aircrew. Straight Flush and its regular crew flew the plane over Japan and radioed that the weather appeared sufficiently clear before the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945. Pictured: (Top row, left to right) 2nd Lt. Ira J. Weatherly, 2nd Lt. Franklin Wey, Maj. Claude R. Eatherly, Capt. Francis D. Thornhill, and 2nd Lt Thoms Grennan. (Middle row, left to right) Sgt. Jack Bivans, Sgt. Gillon T. Niceley, S/Sgt. Pasquale Baldasaro, Sgt. Albert Barsumian. Bottom row, left to right) Cpl. Yive J.H. Ping, Pfc. Harold E. Kinsley, Pfc. Chester S. Chudy, Sgt. Howard A. Thompson, T/Sgt. Donald D. Beaudette, and Cpl. William E. Smith. (Air Force photograph)

Upon completion of testing and training, Eatherly flew Straight Flush from Wendover Field to Tinian, one of the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean and the airfield from which the B-29s dropped the atomic bombs on mainland Japan.

From June to August, Straight Flush flew 11 training missions and six combat missions dropping bombs on Japanese targets.

On the morning of Aug. 6, Eatherly flew Straight Flush on a weather reconnaissance mission over Japan and radioed that the weather appeared sufficiently clear. Then at 9:15 a.m. local time, the Enola Gay dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

After World War II ended, the Army Air Force assigned Straight Flush was assigned to a number locations before it was then sent to the 3040th Aircraft Storage Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., where it was retired in July 1954.

“The Sliverplates’ time at Wendover Field training for the atomic bomb drops led to the 509th Composite Group playing a decisive role in ending World War II and was the reason the museum restored the exterior of its B-29 to resemble Straight Flush,” Clark said. “We feel this story is one everyone should encounter while visiting this museum.”
 

A B-29 Superfortress maintenance and modification line at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in 1950. (Air Force photograph)