Boeing B-29, also called Superfortress, got the nickname Enola Gay after the Colonel Tibbets’ mother. It was possibly the most elegant bomber in the WWII era. The aircraft was equipped with four engines that powered it. The bomber took off for the first time in 1942 and gained its popularity in the Pacific area shortly afterward. Two years later, in 1944, the authorities selected the Enola Gay for a very specific mission. Namely, the plane was supposed to carry the notorious atomic bomb.
For such a mission, certain modifications had to be made. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Warfield Tibbets, who actually nicknamed the bomber Enola Gay, monitored the assembling and trained the crew. When the modification was over, the aircraft was transported to Tinian where the U.S. Army base was located.
The power of the first atomic bomb was demonstrated on July 16, 1945. Harry Truman, the U.S. President at the time, was immediately notified about the mission progress. At the time, he was at the Potsdam Conference. He forwarded the information to Josef Stalin, the USSR leader, stating that the USA possessed a specific weapon of extreme and devastating force.
Ten days later, Japan received the request from the Allies to surrender; otherwise, they would encounter immediate and complete destruction. As Japan didn’t take heed of the request, the Allies decided to release the destructive bomb on Hiroshima.
On August 6, 1945, at about 2:45 a.m., Colonel Tibbets and the crew of 11 soldiers departed from Tinian. They took off in the Enola Gay, together with the enormous and calamitous nuclear bomb nicknamed “Little Boy.” A number of other airplanes followed Tibbets and his crew. At 8:15 a.m., the “Little Boy” was discharged on Hiroshima. It went off at about 1,900ft above the ill-fated city, murdering over a hundred thousand people and utterly destroying the town. Upon returning the Enola Gay to the base, Tibbets was rewarded the Distinguished Service Cross. However, the mission was not over. On August 9, the second nuclear bomb was released on Nagasaki. Even though it wasn’t the Enola that released the second bomb, it did fly there to collect the weather data.
For the USA and the Allies, the bombing mission was successful as Japan capitulated on September 2, 1945. WWII was formally over.
The Enola Gay stayed in service in the following few years. On July 3, 1949, it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, only to be dismantled and kept in Maryland. As the aircraft needed repair badly, its restoration began 35 years later, in 1984. The poor plane was vandalized both by people and birds which made nests in its compartments. Plus, element exposure damaged it considerably. The repair extended to about 20 years.
In 1995, a part of the aircraft was exhibited as the highlight of the disputed exhibition set up at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Originally, the exhibition was supposed to incorporate relics from the annihilated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also, it should have been followed by a debate on the employment of the nuclear bomb. However, these plans were abandoned, so the downsized version was exhibited. Finally, the completely repaired Enola Gay was displayed in Chantilly, Virginia, at the NASM’s Steven F. Udar-Hazy Center.
Interesting Facts & Figures
The B-29 Superfortress, aka Enola Gay, was supposed to fight in Europe; however, it remained on the opposite side of the world. The bomber was not used for the fatal atomic bombs only. It also released the array of destructive weapons: ordinary and incendiary bombs, as well as mines.
The Enola Gay only had the equipment that was absolutely necessary. All other additional equipment was removed as the plane had to carry the bomb that weighed about 10,000 lbs.
Following WW2, the Enola Gay participated in the atomic test project in the pacific. Afterward, it was stored in an Arizona airfield prior to its transfer to the Smithsonian Institute in 1949. However, even though it belonged to the Institute, the aircraft stayed at the Texas air force base.
The last flight the Enola Gay made was on December 2, 1953, when it arrived in Maryland, at Andrews Air Force Base. According to the Smithsonian Institute, the airline remained there until August 1960. Afraid that it would completely deteriorate outside, preservationists urged the Smithsonian staff to relocate it. The Enola Gay was then disassembled and moved inside.
A part of the Enola Gay was supposed to be exhibited at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, together with some artifacts from the bombed cities. However, the U.S. Air Force veterans protested against the exhibition, claiming it was an insult to all soldiers who fought in WW2.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the entire aircraft got to be exposed at the Air and Space Museum site in Chantilly. Virginia.