On January 11, 1944, General of the Army Air Corps, Henry H. Arnold, visited the massive Plant II manufacturing complex in Wichita, Kansas, to check on production of the new Boeing B-29A “Superfortress” heavy bomber. He told Julius E. Schaefer, general manager of the Boeing-Wichita facilities, that he specifically wanted to see one particular airplane – the 175th B-29 under construction. When he found that bomber on the assembly line he told Schaefer, “This is the airplane I want, and I want it by the first of March.” Schaefer urged the workforce to deliver it ahead of schedule, and thanks to their hard work it was completed on February 28.

General Henry H. Arnold shakes hands with Julius E. Schaefer on January 11, 1944, at Boeing-Wichita’s sprawling Plant II facility. They posed next to the 175th “Superfortress” that Arnold needed to activate the new 20th Air Force tasked with bombing Japan. The inscription on the fuselage reads: “The end of a good job splendidly done. Thanks from the AAF.” In addition, the young woman working in the cockpit is worthy of note for two reasons: First, she was one of more than 15,000 women that labored alongside men to build the B-29. Second, she wore her hair high and rolled up for safety reasons – a popular and practical wartime style promoted by Hollywood stars Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall. (Wichita State University Libraries, Department of Special Collections)


General Arnold was determined to get the Superfortress into combat against the Japanese. He had aggressive plans to bomb Emperor Hirohito’s homeland into submission and bring an end to the increasingly vicious fighting in the Pacific Theater of Operations. To accomplish that goal he needed 175 of Boeing’s mighty B-29 to do the job. The 35,000 workers at Plant II rose to the challenge, and by April 1944 Arnold had the 175 airplanes he needed to commence offensive operations over Japan.

During 1944-1945 raids by hundreds of the heavy bombers would deliver death and destruction upon Japan’s major industrial centers. More than 170,000 tons of high explosives and incendiary ordnance pulverized Japan’s ability to wage war, and Wichita-built bombers were among the first to attack the island nation. In August 1945 two bombers named the “Enola Gay” and “Bockscar” ushered in the atomic age and Hirohito ordered the capitulation of Japan.

Near the war’s end General Arnold spoke to workers at Plant II: “What I told Earl Schaefer in Washington, I want to tell you people at Boeing, Wichita and Kansas. You were given a job to do and the way you finished the job met our greatest expectations. For myself and on Behalf of the Army Air Forces, I say to you, well done, and thanks from the bottom of my heart.”