There's no doubt in Orville "Blacky" Blackburn's mind that the B-29 Superfortress made the difference in the Pacific theater in World War II.
"It saved thousands of lives because we didn't have to invade Japan," said the 78-year-old Santee resident as he stood on the tarmac of Van Nuys Airport on Monday looking at "Fifi," the last flying B-29 left in the world.
Nearby sat "Diamond Lil," one of three B-24 Liberators still flying.
The two heavy American bombers will be displayed at Van Nuys Airport's Aviation Expo this weekend, an event that offers a chance to see military and vintage aircraft and meet top fighter pilots. The event is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The B-29 and the B-24 are being preserved by the Confederate Air Force, which restores and flies what the organization says is the world's largest collection of World War II airplanes.
"We're also about preserving the memory of what these [aviators] did in the Second World War," said Keith Kibbe, who was an engineer in the Apollo space projects and is a World War II aviation enthusiast.
B-29s could fly higher and longer and carry more payload than any other bomber during the war. They fire-bombed Tokyo and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Jack Winnick, 77, of Anaheim, piloted a B-29, though never in combat. He said its pressurized cabin was revolutionary at the time.
"Relatively speaking, it was a lot more comfortable than [the B-24]," said Winnick, who came out to see the planes.
In addition to the comfort factor, air crews of the lumbering B-24 Liberators often faced long odds.
In 1943, a massive air raid on the German-controlled oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania, cost the lives of 540 American aviators. Of the 177 B-24s that took part in the mission, 54 were lost.
Liberator air crews had to endure intense heat in their flight suits, and then freezing temperatures as they gained altitude.
Carl Riese, the 63-year-old Georgia resident who pilots "Diamond Lil," said he does not envy those airmen.
"You have to respect what these guys did."