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B-29 memorial honors ‘the Flying Guinea Pigs’


The Associated Press
May 28, 2003
Pratt — They called it the "Flying Guinea Pig," and Bob Robbins was the guinea pig that flew it.

In four years and 458 hours of flight time, Robbins tested the XB-29 so pilots in combat would know how to get a disabled plane home safely.
As part of his training flights, Robbins routinely flew the four-engine plane with one or two of its engines out.
Robbins was one of hundreds on hand at the old Pratt Army Air Field this weekend for the dedication of a B-29 All Veterans Memorial, created to remember those who contributed to the B-29 project.

B-29 Memorial Stone

Shadows are cast on a B-29 memorial that was dedicated at the old Pratt Army Air Field. Hundreds of people were on hand Saturday at the air field for the dedication of the B-29 All Veterans Memorial, created to remember all those who contributed to the making of the famed military aircraft.

Many of the planes, some of which were used to carry the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, were built and tested in -- and over-- Kansas.
Boeing in Wichita built more than 1,600 of the B-29 planes. And the Pratt airfield was the first site selected to test them. The planes also flew from bases in Great Bend, Herington, Salina and Walker.
Robbins, now 87, performed 312 test flights in the four years after his friend Eddie Allen died in 1943. Robbins inherited Allen's job and began the flights as the aircraft commander and project test pilot in Seattle.
"It was my job to test the limits of the airplane in a safe manner," Robbins said. "We wanted everything tested so they could find out their maximum flight range with their maximum payload."
Robbins, who never saw combat, worked to solve a nagging engine fire problem that had destroyed at least 19 planes in flight.
Time after time, Robbins would shut down some of the B-29's four engines to find answers to potential problems. He discovered what would happen if one or two engines failed in combat.

"I would shut an engine down and determine what they needed to do to get back safely," Robbins said. "It was invaluable information. They always knew what they were facing because we'd tested every possibility."
Robbins shed a few tears during the singing of "God Bless America" at Saturday's memorial service, and he said it was hard to describe his respect for the combatants in the war.
"Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in that effort," Robbins said. "Those who died never came back. Many who came back were scarred with injuries or memories of what they'd seen. This type of memorial is important because it shows what your ancestors went through to fight for freedom."
Jack McCawley, chairman of the committee to create the B-29 memorial, said he would petition for national monument status for the B-29 exhibit.
"We owe a lot to many individuals and businesses who have contributed their time and resources," McCawley said. "What's great is this project has only just begun."