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Archive for Sunday, November 18, 2001

Pilot of Enola Gay, B-29 aircraft used for first atomic bomb, visits Wichita

November 18, 2001

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— For Paul Tibbets, a weekend visit to Wichita brought him back to the city where he first was introduced to the B-29, the World War II aircraft used to drop the first atomic bomb.

Tibbets, a retired brigadier general who flew the plane, was making an appearance Saturday at the Kansas Aviation Museum, where Wichita Mayor Bob Knight gave him a special award. On Friday workers at Boeing Co. got a chance to see and meet the widely known former pilot.

He autographed copies of his book, "Return of the Enola Gay," and took a look at restoration work being done on an old B-29 in a Boeing hangar.

Tibbets, 86, still draws large crowds wherever he goes, from teary-eyed veterans who thank him for ending World War II before they had to storm the beaches of Japan, to members of younger generations who want to see someone they had only read about in history books.

It was a B-29 that Tibbets named the Enola Gay in honor of his mother that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. He recalled that he had come to Wichita in 1943 to start working with the B-29s.

He had impressed his superiors flying B-17 bombers in Europe, and he was selected for further training on the B-29 after a plane crash in the state of Washington killed all the pilots who had extensive experience flying that plane.

After 15 months of planning and preparation, the actual mission to drop the 9,700-pound bomb on Hiroshima "was the most boring day" of them all, Tibbets said.

"Everything went just like it was supposed to," he said. "There were no problems."

He said he had "no emotion" about his involvement in the historic mission that led to the Japanese surrender, ending the war.

"I went there to put the bomb on the target," he said. "Once the bomb exploded, I breathed a sigh of relief."

The Enola Gay was 10 1/2 miles from the target by then. The bomb's shock wave hit the plane so hard "it was like anti-aircraft fire," Tibbets said.

He said there was no mushroom cloud, which became a signature of later nuclear bombs.

Tibbets knew the bomb would kill many people perhaps even American prisoners of war who were rumored to be in the area. It saved millions of lives by ending the war sooner, he said. The plane that Tibbets flew, manufactured by Martin Aircraft Co. of Omaha under a licensing agreement with Boeing Aircraft Co., is currently undergoing restoration in Maryland.

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