Any doubts whether the restored Boeing B-29 bomber known as “Doc” would make its permanent home in Wichita were erased Friday morning when ground was formally broken for its new hangar.
About 100 people attended the ceremony at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport, including surprise guest Leanne Caret, a Derby native and president and CEO of Boeing Defense.
It turns out that Boeing is a key contributor to the $6.5 million, 32,000-square-foot B-29 Doc Hangar and Education Center, which will be along the 1800 block of South Airport Road.
“What a tremendous day,” said Jeff Turner, chairman of the nonprofit Doc’s Friends, which owns the historic warbird. “Bumps and turbulence along the way. Lots of issues we’ve had to resolve. But, you know, we’re here.”
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Construction of the new building isn’t expected to begin until sometime next month, officials said. It’s expected to take eight to 10 months to complete.
Hutton Construction is the general contractor. Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey is the building’s architect.
Twenty-four-thousand square feet of the building will be used to house and maintain Doc, while most of the remaining space will be used for an education center with activities tied to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
An upper deck in the hangar will allow visitors to see Doc even during times when the airplane is undergoing maintenance. When crews aren't maintaining the airplane, visitors will be able to walk up to the World War II-era bomber.
“Doc is a piece of living history, its not just a machine,” Boeing’s Caret said in her speech. “Somewhere, amid her parts and pieces, is a spirit of everyone who came before.”
Friday’s ceremony was the first announcement that Boeing was tied to Doc’s hangar project. Of the nearly $5 million raised so far, Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems and the city of Wichita account for “a full half of it,” said Turner.
Officials declined to say the exact amount Boeing contributed to the new hangar, through they labled it a “major gift.” The city contributed $900,000 as part of the proceeds from its $20 million sale of the Wichita Hyatt Regency last year.
And Spirit contributed more than $250,000. Over the life of Doc’s restoration, Spirit has contributed more than $1 million in cash, in-kind work on the airplane and other support, Doc’s Friends said in a news release.
“There were 1,644 B-29s that were manufactured in the same factory where today we manufacture the 737,” Spirit CEO Tom Gentile said at the ceremony. “ … So recognizing this legacy and the place in aviation history is very important to Spirit today.”
A Kickstarter campaign launched July 18 to raise $100,000 towards the new hangar was unsuccessful. It received $20,675 in pledges. None of that money went to Doc’s Friends because it didn’t reach its fundraising goal.
Doc’s Friends spokesman Josh Wells downplayed the unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, adding that individual donors were more interested in donating $200 for a brick paver to be placed in a plaza area outside the new hangar than pledge $25 online.
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“We’re feeling very positive about the fundraising,” Wells said after the ceremony. “There are several large donors we’ll be recognizing along the way.”