The “Kee Bird” was a United States Army Air Forces B-29-95-BW Superfortress, 45-21768, of the 46th Reconnaissance Squadron, that became marooned after making an emergency landing in northwest Greenland during a secret Cold War spying mission on 21 February 1947.
Although the entire crew was safely evacuated, after spending three days in the isolated Arctic tundra, the aircraft itself was left at the landing site. It lay there undisturbed until 1994, when a privately funded mission was launched to repair and return it. The attempted recovery resulted in the destruction and loss of the airframe by fire on the ground.
Aircrew photo, February 1947. (L to R, Standing) Lt Vern H. Arnett; Lt Russell D. Jordan; Lt John G. Lesman; Lt Burl Cowan; Lt Robert L. Luedke; Lt Talbot M. Gates; (L to R, Front Row) MSgt Larwence Yarbroughr; SSgt Ernest C. Stewart; TSgt Robert Leader; SSGT Paul R. McNamara; Lt Howard R Adams
In July 1994, a team of aircraft restorers operating as Kee Bird Limited Liability Co. was led by Darryl Greenamyer to the emergency landing site. The aircraft had made a successful (albeit bumpy) landing on the frozen lake and had remained relatively intact at the site ever since. The USAF had also surrendered any claim to the B-29. It was believed that the ship could be put into flying condition, flown off the frozen lake and ferried to Thule AFB, Greenland where further repairs could be made before flying back to the United States.
PBS NOVA: B-29 Frozen in Time
Using a 1962 De Havilland Caribou as a shuttle plane, the team departed the U.S. Armed Services base at Thule and flew in tools and equipment to the Kee Bird.
Over the summer months, the team transported four re-manufactured engines, four new propellers, an engine hoist, and new tires, as well as a small bulldozer, to the remote site. The team successfully replaced the engines and propellers, mounted the new tires, and resurfaced the aircraft’s control surfaces.
As the winter snows began to fall, the Chief Engineer, Rick Kriege fell ill and was transported to a hospital in Iqaluit, Canada, where he died from a blood clot two weeks later. Although the plane was nearly ready to fly, Greenamyer’s team was compelled by weather to leave the site.
In May 1995, Greenamyer returned with additional personnel. The repairs begun in 1994 were completed and the aircraft prepared to take off from the frozen lake on 21 May 1995. A crude runway was carved out of the snow on the ice using the small bulldozer that had been ferried into the site. The new engines were successfully started for the takeoff attempt.
As Darryl Greenamyer was taxiing the aircraft onto the frozen lake, the B-29?s auxiliary power unit’s jury-rigged fuel tank began to leak gasoline into the rear fuselage. Fire broke out and quickly spread to the rest of the aircraft. The cockpit crew escaped unharmed but cook/mechanic, Bob Vanderveen, who was visually monitoring the engines from the rear of the aircraft, suffered smoke inhalation and flash burns.
Despite attempts to extinguish it from outside the plane, the fire raged and spread through the fuselage. The aircraft was largely destroyed on the ground, with the Kee Bird’s fuselage and tail surfaces being completely destroyed. When the lake thawed in the spring, it was feared that the wreckage (with nearly intact wing panels and engines) would sink to the bottom.
As of 2008, the aircraft sat, broken, on an ice shelf on the surface.
For more information…
- Original article: http://www.warhistoryonline.com/whotube-2/who-tube-b-29-kee-bird-frozen-in-time.html
- PBS Nova: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/b29-frozen.html
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kee_Bird