Jasper grad spends summer in B-29 bomber


Cameron Egler

When Jasper native Cameron Egler first laid his eyes on Fifi, he fell in love.

“Fifi will always be my favorite,” he said. “Ever since I saw her two years ago, I knew I wanted to be involved in any way I could.”

The 20-year-old is interning on the Commemorative Air Force AirPower History Tour, where he assists the flight engineer with maintenance on Fifi, a B-29 Superfortress bomber.

Cameron found out about the internship two years ago when the Commemorative Air Force flew to Marion, Illinois, with Fifi. An aviation technology major at Southern Illinois University, he volunteered to help them that weekend, and got more interested in it. He said he tried interning last summer, but didn’t have time.

Cameron is now a junior at SIU. Aviation technology is a field that covers aspects of flight training, aircraft maintenance and security. Cameron said he became interested with the aviation technology program as it combined his love of machinery and planes.

The 12-week Commemorative Air Force program is based in Dallas-Fort Worth where the CAF headquarters is located. Cameron left for Dallas in May, and will return to Jasper at the end of July before going back to school.

Fifi, the B-29 Superfortress bomber he is traveling in, is one of only two airworthy Superfortresses in the world, returning to the skies in the late 1970s. The other bomber, Doc, became airworthy in June 2016.

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress is a four-engine, propeller-driven, heavy bomber that was flown primarily by the United States during World War II and the Korean War.

Cameron, a 2017 Jasper High School graduate, took an interest in aviation from a young age. While his classmates played video games like Call of Duty and Halo, Cameron spent his time playing games that simulated flying planes.

His mother, Cathy — his father is Kenny — said Cameron had an actual tool kit at 3 years old.

Photo courtesy Cathy Egler

“He’s always been into taking stuff apart, which drove me crazy, but he would end up putting it back together,” she said. “He was always looking to put things together.”

Cameron comes from a family line of historians. His sister is working toward a doctorate in history at Texas State University, and his grandfather was a high school history teacher.

“I’ve always been interested in World War II history growing up,” he said. “I’ve just really liked planes from a young age.”

The only aviator he knows is his neighbor, Dave Laubscher, who is a corporate pilot for Kimball International. Cameron said he was able to pick Laubscher’s brain and learn some things about aviation.

The internship through the CAF selects four interns from across the country. Many members of the CAF are retired military personnel or pilots.

“I love working with them, because they make you feel like you’re family,” he said. “They really make you feel welcome, and if you need help with anything, they are always there to help out.”

Formed in 1976, the B-29 squadron was created to fly Fifi from city to city and open its hatches to the world. The squadron travels to as many as 20 cities across the nation, bringing together the aircraft, pilots and crews from more than 70 CAF units across the country as part of the AirPower History Tour.

Cameron has traveled all over the eastern United States, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Trenton, New Jersey, to Pontiac, Michigan.

He is currently touring in Muncie.

“I love that I’m able to keep this plane flying and working in conditions where people can come out and enjoy the history of this plane,” Cameron said. “Fifi has such a great history and it is truly an honor to be able to work on her.”

The public is able to tour the cockpit of the aircraft, and even has the opportunity to purchase a flight trip at each stop, allowing people to experience the sights and sounds of a World War II bomber in the air.

“He [Cameron] had the opportunity to work at an airport, and the guy there said, ‘You should probably do this instead,’” Cathy said. “This is such a neat program. It really is the chance of a lifetime.”

Cameron wants to specialize in helicopter maintenance his senior year at SIU. He hopes to move out west and become a Helitack crew chief after he graduates. A helitack is the system of managing and using helicopters to put out fires, primarily wildfires.

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