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Keeping Them Flying as a Family

By Chris Henry

February 18, 2016 - For anyone who follows the news on the Commemorative Air Force’s Boeing B-29 Fifi, and the award winning FG1D Corsair from the Olympic Flight Museum the name Brad Pilgrim will not be unfamiliar. For many years Brad, now the General Manager of the CAF B-39/B-24 Squadron, has been pouring blood, sweat, and tears into aviation. And he is lucky enough to be doing it as a family. 

The first time Brad knew he wanted to help ensure that the aircraft from World War II would continue to fly on for years came in 1977. He attended a show at Reese AFB in Lubbock, Texas. He asked someone when the warbirds would fly and he was told that “No one cares about seeing those old things. Everyone wants to see jets.” Brad grew up in West Texas and was lucky enough to get to take his first airplane ride with aviation legend Howard Pardue. “The folks at Breckenridge were always welcoming and treated me so nice,” Brad said.  It was also there during one of the air shows that he met Flying Tiger pilot “Tex” Hill who gave him some sound advice. “Make sure you are being useful, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not.”

Brad’s love of aviation ignited his interest in joining the military. He joined the USAF in the early ’90s and became a loadmaster on the Lockheed C-130 Hercules and later the C-17 Globemaster III. It was here that he met Kristine. She was also a C-17 Loadmaster. “I loved every aspect of being in the USAF,” she said.  They soon started dating and visited iconic aviation museums and sights such as the Olympic Flight Museum and the Reno Air Races. She started getting rides in some of the most famous vintage aircraft flying. “My first warbird ride was with Bud Granley in the Fouga. Then I flew in the P-51, T-6, Cobra, and Huey,” she said. “Many of the pilots [didn’t want] to lose Brad and his knowledge to a marriage, so they would work to keep me excited about it as well.” The plan worked, and soon Kristine was also volunteering. 

Brad and Kristine got married in 2008 and she joined him in being a very active part of the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron. Kristine said, “I received a very warm welcome by everyone in the organization.” Together they helped keep these large bombers flying and visited the many stops where folks could come out and climb through the old war planes. The most rewarding thing you can do with a vintage aircraft is reunite the pilots and crews who flew them in the war. On tours Brad and Kristine have plenty of opportunities to do just that. “We had the chance to have everyone from the combat veterans, to the WASPs and the Rosie the Riveters,” she said. Brad remembers one special veteran that came out to visit. “We had a gentleman show up at the plane who was in his 90s. He had, it turned out, been a gunner on a B-29. We brought him up and just sat in the plane with him for over an hour, listening to him tell stories and share memories of his time with the B-29 in combat. It was the first time he had talked about it since 1945.” 

One of the other main reasons to keep these machines flying is to educate our youth so that these lessons are not forgotten. That is not lost on Brad. “We have to keep this history alive so that these younger people get interested in it and they keep it going for other generations. It is important to ensure that we have young people to pass the torch to”, Brad said. “They are the ones that are going to keep all of this going.” Brad and Kristine also practice what they preach as they have introduced their daughter Jordan to volunteering on the B-29 as well. 

Jordan is now 17. She is already volunteering on the B-29. “In my time doing this, I noticed that there are not a lot of teenagers doing it,” Jordan said. She is volunteering on an airplane that was built more than 50 years before she was born. The men and woman she works to honor were not much older than she is when they took to the skies to fight for our country. “I spend a lot of my time cleaning the B-29 and sometimes the Corsair.” she said. What may seem simple, like cleaning the airplanes, is not only vital to the aircraft operation, but also frees up other team members to do tasks such as repairs and restoration. Jordan also assists passengers and visitors going on ground tours of the big bombers. “I am thankful for the chance to do this, and to do it with my family.”

In today’s busy rush it is easy for a family to get so busy that they forget to take time to spend together, but Brad said volunteering with the B-29 gives them an opportunity to do just that.  “There are times when we would all go out as a family and clean the planes,” Brad said. “We would all be together and just talk about our day and everything else as we cleaned away. To me, that is the most important part of it all.”

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