Five on the Fly: Mark Novak

Five on the Fly: Mark Novak

Five on the Fly: Mark Novak

WHO: Mark Novak

B-29 Doc Chief Pilot

Dawson, NE

with types in
DC-B26 and
Authorized Experimental Aircraft, B-29

5,200 Military
3,000 Civilian
350 in the B-29

1. Can you summarize your piloting background?

 I was a military pilot for almost 24 years, flying great aircraft like the C-21 (military version of the Lear 35), B-1 Bomber and TG-7A glider. I eventually left active duty and joined the National Guard flying the KC-135 for nine years before signing up for active duty retirement.

2. What inspired you to get involved with organizations like the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and Doc’s Friends? 

Before I became a pilot, I loved airplane movies! I never thought I would actually be able to fly any of those old airplanes, but while stationed in Texas flying the B-1, I became involved in the Big Country Squadron of the CAF. One of the members told me of an Interstate L-6 that was for sale. It was a fairly rare aircraft (250 produced and only two left in original condition). I ended up purchasing the L-6 and owned it for eight years – getting bit by the warbird bug in the process. From there, I worked my way up the ladder flying and owning many types of historic aircraft including a T-6 I still own today. To me, the aircraft of the World War II era are amazing. Less than 40 years after the Wright Brothers flew, we had P-51’s and B-29’s. These aircraft are the reason the Allies won the war. I consider it an honor to be able to fly, display and tell the story of those who flew these great aircraft.

 3. You have been flying the B-29 Superfortress for more than six years. From your perspective, what makes flying the B-29 particularly special?

For my first four years, there was only one B-29 flying: FIFI of the CAF. Everywhere we took her, we were greeted by enthusiasts whose parents and grandparents flew and worked on the B-29. They all wanted to touch the aircraft and tell their stories. For the past two years, I have flown both Doc and FIFI. The crowds and excitement met by either of the iconic warbirds is infectious. Some might think every stop is the same, but it is the people I meet that keeps me coming back. I travel 2-3 weekends per month giving rides and talking about these wonderful pieces of history.

4. Based on my experience onboard Doc, it is apparent a great deal of communication is needed to operate the B-29. Can you explain the crew dynamic?

You are not the only one to comment on the crew dynamics. I am asked a lot about how we do it. First, the FAA requires us to have six crew members on the aircraft at all times: two pilots, one flight engineer and three scanners in the rear. Of course, as a pilot I consider myself the big cog in the wheel, but it is truly the flight engineer that we cannot function without. He starts and stops the engine, runs the fuel and electricity and is constantly monitoring the four massive R-3350’s. Often, people are amazed that the pilots rarely touch the throttles. In fact, pilots only use the throttles for taxi and takeoff. While flying, I will call each power setting to the flight engineer. Since the propellers are almost 17 feet across, just a slight difference in power can make the aircraft fly sideways. 

The scanners are my eyes for the back half of the aircraft. Since I cannot see very much of the engines during flight, they look for leaks, smoke and (heaven forbid) fire. They also call out aircraft configurations and constantly keep a lookout for traffic. In an emergency situation, they are the ones that would lower the gear and flaps manually if needed. 

The most imperative time for crew coordination is during the landing phase. As the pilot, I’m concentrating on putting the 80,000-plus-pound aircraft on the centerline and touching down in the first 1,000 feet of the runway. I will call out different power settings to the flight engineer before finally requesting the removal of all power once we are above the runway. It’s more of a dance than an exact science, but as a team we get the job done.

5. What is one of your all-time favorite flying memories?

Well I have many, but three years ago I was honored to participate in the 70th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day to celebrate the end of World War II. Over 50 aircraft flew over the National Mall in Washington D.C. Originally, I was to fly FIFI as the last aircraft in the flyby, but the only participating A-26 needed a pilot and I ended up flying it instead. The swell of pride and patriotism seen that week was incredible. I am already really looking forward to taking part in the 75th anniversary flight
in 2020.

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