September 24, 2022

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Aviation enthusiast and longtime tinkerer Shawn Wilson of London, Ont., couldn’t resist the rusted-out B-29 Superfortress engine when he spotted it on eBay earlier this year.

Wilson was quick to drop $2,000 US for the Second World War-era engine with the sole purpose of restoring it and displaying it in his garage in all its newfound shiny glory, as an homage to a piece of aviation history.

It’s been turning neighbours’ heads, he said. 

I’ve caused traffic jams in the neighbourhood. It’s just not something you see every day.– Shawn Wilson, aviation enthusiast

“I’ve caused some traffic jams in the neighbourhood. It’s just not something you see every day.

The B-29 engine arrived by truck in May to Wilson’s driveway. (Submitted by Shawn Wilson)

“It had 50 years of growth and crud on it that I’m cleaning off and I’m going to make it into a nice museum piece again,” said Wilson, a fire department captain in nearby Sarnia.

Wilson paid to have the engine delivered from a salvage yard in Pennsylvania, where it had been languishing for years; and in May, a truck pulled up to Wilson’s suburban driveway in Lambeth with the nearly two-tonne delivery.

“I just like the planes and the mechanics behind it,” said Wilson. “I was so happy when it actually got here from the states because there were so many hassles trying to get it up here.”

Wilson thought the engine was arriving on a flatbed truck and hired equipment to take it off when it arrived, but it came in a box trailer, so different equipment was required. As well, the truck broke down en route.

“I couldn’t believe it actually arrived when it did,” he said. 

According to Wilson, few Second World War-era engines like his include the cowling — the removable covering — that hides the back end of the engine and attaches to the plane. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

“It was pretty crazy and chaotic,” said his daughter, Sarah Wilson, 22, who is about to start courses for her aviation maintenance diploma at Fanshawe College. “When we opened the doors, it was so much bigger than anticipated and it wowed everybody driving and walking by.

“People drive by, and they want to stop and come up and talk and park their vehicles right in the middle of the street. So it’s generated a lot of interest.”

Indeed, a recent Facebook post had many people speculating.

Bomber engine likely never saw service 

Wilson has been trying to track down the origins of the engine, made even more difficult because the serial number has been removed. 

But through some online sleuthing and the help of aircraft engine groups, Wilson has discovered his new acquisition belonged to a United States Air Force B-29 Superfortress, which like all B-29s, had four engines onboard.

The bomber engine has 18 cylinders. So far, Wilson has finished polishing one of them, a time-consuming, painstaking process. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

“The engine was sold to TWA Airlines — Howard Hughes’s airlines — and it was converted to a fuel-injection engine and flown on the civilian Constellation Airlines,” said Wilson.

“It was 1945 when this one was made, so I think it was put in the bomber and never actually saw service.”

WATCH | Shawn Wilson says he ‘couldn’t help’ but buy this B-29 Superfortress engine on eBay: 

London man bought a WWII-era bomber engine

Shawn Wilson bought a 1945 B-29 Superfortress engine on eBay for $2,000. He’s now restoring it in his garage in London, Ont.

In the three months since the engine was delivered, Wilson has spent hours cleaning it. 

“It’s such a slow process,” he admitted. “The project is so much bigger than I had originally anticipated.”

Removing the rust has been the hardest part.

“I’ve used sandblasting, wire wheels, acids. The only thing that seems to work is the sandblasting, so it’s a lot of work.”

So far, Wilson has managed to finish cleaning and polishing just one of the 18 cylinders.

Wilson has tracked down an overhaul manual for the engine.

“It is possible to get it running again. It’s just a lot of money, a lot of time involved. That’s a project down the road,” said Wilson, who figures a working B-29 engine is worth $200,000.

Wilson’s daughter has more ambitious plans.

“Once I start actually learning stuff at Fanshawe, I’ll have an understanding of what’s going on with the engine a bit more, and I have plans to definitely help him fix it up,” she said. “He says he might not get it started, but I think once I start learning how and he realizes I know how, we might start trying.”

Wilson hopes to restore the engine and keep it in his garage as a kind of museum piece. One day, he may try refurbishing it so it runs, he said. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

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