City airport hosts ‘flying…museum’

Tony Mulhare, holding their 15-month-old son, along with his wife Alicia, points as they look into the bomb bay of the B-29 Superfortress the “FiFi” Saturday as it is on display at the Clovis Municipal Airport. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

By Gary Mitchell

Autumn Saldana, 6, said she felt comfortable behind the controls of the World War II warbird known as “Fifi,” the world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress bomber.
Her only problem is just getting into the cockpit.
“I liked the B-29 the best,” the Clovis youngster said. “I liked sitting in the pilot’s seat. But it was scary going up into the plane — and especially going down the steps.”
The B-29 and “Diamond Lil,” the world’s oldest B-24 Liberator bomber were on static display Saturday at Blue Sky Aviation on the Clovis Municipal Airport runway.
The planes are on display again today, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The warplanes were brought to the Clovis airport by the Commemorative Air Force (formerly the Confederate Air Force) based in Midland, Texas.
Ivan Strickler, 83, of Clovis, said he recalled his World War II days as he checked out the planes at the Clovis airport.
“I was in the Air Force,” he said. “I was disappointed they didn’t have a B-17 here, but it’s been close to 60 years since I’ve seen these aircraft. I did a hitch in the Air Force and went into the infantry. I wasn’t happy in the Air Force. I couldn’t accomplish anything.”
“Yeah, like getting shot at by real bullets,” said his son, Randal Strickler, 50, also of Clovis.
Erick Richter, 38, of Portales, said he enjoyed the display.
“It’s pretty nice to see these old warbirds,” he said. “I’ve read about them in books, but I haven’t seen them in person. My uncle flew a B-25. He was a belly gunner in World War II.”
“These planes have a lot of history behind them,” said Col. Bob Walker with the Commemorative Air Force. “We do these tours for the love of the airplanes. A lot of war veterans come out to see them.”
Col. Richard “Shorty” DeWitt, flight engineer for the B-24 bomber, said the people who take the time to see his plane seem glad to be able to do so.
“They’re very positive, very thankful,” he said. “At some point, they’ve been touched by these planes, and they appreciate that we’ve kept these planes alive. We’re a flying historical museum.”