When I moved back to Wichita four years ago, I had no clue I would soon take part in one of the most incredible and rare of projects. A Boeing B-29 Superfortress named “Doc” was undergoing an extensive restoration not even 20 minutes from my house. It was (and still is) the last-known restorable/airworthy B-29 bomber in the world; joining only FIFI, operated by the Commemorative Air Force. The mission of the restoration: return the iconic warbird to flying condition in order to honor, educate and connect generations.
This huge undertaking was spearheaded largely by aerostructure manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems and over the years enlisted the help of dozens of volunteer mechanics, engineers and electricians from the surrounding areas – many of whom were former Boeing employees. Spirit machined one-of-a-kind parts and airframe structures in the very factory Doc was built. Nearly every part of the 1944 aircraft had to be removed, inspected, cleaned and rebuilt or replaced (more detail can be found in our cover feature article, page 16).
My involvement began when I joined marketing agency Sullivan, Higdon & Sink (SHS) in 2014. SHS was assisting pro bono in the marketing and communications efforts on behalf of Doc’s Friends – a nonprofit formed by Wichita business leaders to financially support and manage the B-29. I met Doc my third day on the job.
Over the next two years, a small group from both SHS and Spirit, including myself, regularly met and collaborated on Doc’s Friends projects and fundraisers. Doc was nearing completion and approaching test flight status, and it was our goal to achieve national attention and support to help get Doc across the finish line (which we proudly accomplished). During the process, I formed a lasting friendship with one particular Spirit employee/volunteer; someone who continues to be fundamental to the Doc’s Friends’ mission today and undoubtedly deserves recognition. His name: Josh Wells.
Now, Josh’s “real job” is communications and government relations at Spirit AeroSystems. But he also holds several titles with Doc’s Friends: board member, communications/marketing director and executive director of operations – and he does all of this as a 100 percent volunteer. If you were to calculate the number of hours he dedicates to Doc’s Friends in his spare time, especially now that Doc is touring the country, it’d easily add up to be a full-time job. As both a fellow communicator and a friend, I am constantly amazed at how he is able to juggle his numerous responsibilities (on top of raising a family and staying active within his local community).
“For me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Wells. “Both of my grandfathers and several of my great uncles served in WWII. It is humbling to play even a small role in promoting what the Greatest Generation did for our country and showing off this beautiful airplane.”
If you have followed Doc’s story in any capacity via articles, social media or video, you’ve likely seen or heard Josh quoted. He knows the history, the airplane and the mission by heart. He’s quick to recognize his fellow volunteers, and there is no doubt that with a project the size of Doc, it’s absolutely true that every volunteer is essential. But today, I want to personally take the time to applaud Josh and his tireless efforts to carry out Doc’s mission.
“Every flight in Doc, I touch the airplane and remind myself how blessed and honored I am to be sitting where so many young men sat 70-plus years ago to protect our country,” said Wells. “Sharing their stories, alongside the wonderful volunteers who restored the airplane, is something I will never take for granted.”
Thank you for your passion and dedication, Josh. It is truly a labor of love.