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B-29 Frozen in Time


namvet
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some of you may have seen this. almost brought me to tears

 

I saw this program on Nova back in 97. an amazing story of a team of men who attempted to rescue a down B-29 called Kee Bird in the frozen artic north. i was facinated. could they repair this piece of history on sight in artic weather and fly it home????

In February 1947, a B-29 bomber nicknamed Kee Bird became lost above the Arctic Circle while on a secret Cold War reconnaissance mission. After crash landing in northern Greenland, the crew was rescued, but the Kee Bird was left behind. Although nearly 4,000 B-29s were built in the 1940s, by 1994 the Kee Bird was one of only a few such planes left in the world. Its historical significance and well-preserved condition attracted the attention of Darryl Greenamyer, an experienced salvage pilot. After surveying the plane and its location, Greenamyer decided to repair the Kee Bird and fly it back to the United States. This episode of NOVA follows his team's efforts to rescue the Kee Bird.

a member of the expedition died during this daring rescue

 

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but she didn't make it. something went wrong. fire and smoke as they tried to lift off

 

 

story http://b-29s-over-ko.../b29-frozen.htm

 

 

the complete vid is still on PBS. almost 54 mins long. if you want to watch it

 

http://video.pbs.org/video/1548962233

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It was an Oxygen generator that shook loose and caught on fire.

 

Somebody on here probably knows how large of a ground crew that normally cared for these large aircraft even under the best of conditions. Also the specialized training that the maintenance team would of had. After watching the film, I think the recovery effort was woefully undermanned and overly optimistic.

 

Hindsight being the clearer, one wonders why they didn't fly it out piece by piece.

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They had a good plan that would have worked. I feel the eagerness of those last moments to taxi the plabe across the rough terrain thereby bouncing loose the APU is what caused the disaster. I'm not a fan of Greenamayer only because of all the planes he has destroyed but I can't characterize him or anyone else associated with that effort as a moron. The planning, funding and stockpiling of gear took years not to mention getting the clearances from the Air Force to use their facility. However, thank you for the topic, it's also a reminder the efforts people will take to find, retrieve and preserve these old aircraft as well as other treasures from the past. The recent Spitfire find as well as the recovery of the P~38 in Greenland are just a couple examples. The Nova episode is a reminder that even the best planning doesn't always end well.

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The reality of the situation was that they didn't do good enough job as one component broke off and destroyed the entire aircraft.

 

My first job for 4 years was at the planes of fame museum in Chino. I saw first hand how WWII aircraft were restored and the detail put into the engineering of the aircraft they restored. When I first read about this incident I figured they were going to take it apart and bring it back in parts and believed it was a bit far reaching to try to fly it off the ice after sitting idle for 50 years especially a technilogical intricate aircraft such as a b-29. My gut feeling at the time was correct that it was going to end in disaster and sadly I was proven right when it burned to the ground.

 

Morons a strong word perhaps but this ill adventure sure lacked common sense of just taking the aircraft apart and bringing it back in parts and I'm sure they came up with every reason in the book to avoid doing just that.

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The reality of the situation was that they didn't do good enough job as one component broke off and destroyed the entire aircraft.

 

My first job for 4 years was at the planes of fame museum in Chino. I saw first hand how WWII aircraft were restored and the detail put into the engineering of the aircraft they restored. When I first read about this incident I figured they were going to take it apart and bring it back in parts and believed it was a bit far reaching to try to fly it off the ice after sitting idle for 50 years especially a technilogical intricate aircraft such as a b-29. My gut feeling at the time was correct that it was going to end in disaster and sadly I was proven right when it burned to the ground.

 

Morons a strong word perhaps but this ill adventure sure lacked common sense of just taking the aircraft apart and bringing it back in parts and I'm sure they came up with every reason in the book to avoid doing just that.

Didn't they replace the engines and propellers and other parts such as tires and fluids? Not only did the engines run well but obviously there wasn't much issue with fuel contamination. The fact that the people involved had many decades experience with aircraft of this vintage leads me to believe none of them would have foolishly signed on to live the way they did under such austere conditions if they didn't have a collective faith in each other or an equal amount of respect for what each had to contribute. I'm thankful to still be able to do these type things as well as to remain closely associated with a museum that values not only our capabilities but out opinions in how to accomplish our recoveries and restorations. These guys did a good job and would have succeeded to at least take off if they had waited to grade the ice into smoothness.

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Johnny Signor

I agree with the one post that they should ahve went the long route and just took her apart and trucked/airlifted it out and re assembled it once back in the states , with all they put into the "Fly out" try it could have been done and probably no more $$$$$$ than the end result they did go with , such a shame that a great bird like that lasted so long only to be took out by a loose part not thought of .....................................................

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Here is the PBS video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u4YBwjQTds&feature=related

Here are two links which contain additional information: http://www.dhc4and5.org/N124DG.html, http://www.avcanada.ca/forums2/viewtopic.php?f=54&t=24970&p=244140&hilit=Greenland#p244140.

Here is a link that contains information about recovery efforts from another continent: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_LC-130

In the end, there was really only one way to recover that aircraft. The weight of even parts of that aircraft would have guaranteed destruction negating the cost of recovery for this plane to be a museum piece let alone ever fly again.

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VP_Association

I actually saw the Kee Bird in real life. Back during the late 1980s when I was with VP-MAU Brunswick I participated in a two-week polar ASW research project staged out of Thule AFB in Greenland. This took place during the summer and the sun never set up there at that time. We used to use the Kee Bird as a navigation waypoint when heading to and from the polar ice cap. We'd always come down low to check it out. It looked terrific, all bright silver sitting in the middle of a pool of blue glacier melt. I remember that I was very excited when I found out that somebody was working on recovering it and was really pissed off when I found out that they'd destroyed it. I was under the impression that there was a kerosine heater going in the back of the aircraft that got knocked over but somebody else said that it was the APU? Wouldn't the APU be turned off once the engines and engine-driven generators were going?

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I was under the impression that there was a kerosine heater going in the back of the aircraft that got knocked over but somebody else said that it was the APU? Wouldn't the APU be turned off once the engines and engine-driven generators were going?

Normally it would be but this was anything but normal. I can only speculate that it was kept running as a backup to those generators that had not run in about fifty years. Or it might have actually been a portable generator used as an ad hoc APU. There was so much about this effort that did not meet the norm for an aircraft retrieval that I am sure these guys were completely amazed they had gotten as far as they had.

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Gotta go with "selfish morons".

 

I'm not the most sensitive of individuals, but if I was confronted with removing a rare aircraft in near-flyable condition that had remained intact for over 50 years, I think my first priority would be to ensure I got it out without screwing it up.

 

Reminds me of the Keystone Cops "archaeologists" of the 19th and early 20th centuries...

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... how large of a ground crew that normally cared for these large aircraft even under the best of conditions.

10 crew for basic combat operations - but pilot, co-pilot, engineer, navigator and radio operator would have been enough (plus mechanics) to have flown it away if it had been airworthy.

 

I recall the fire cause being oxygen generator coming loose too... heartbreaking to see that film.

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Gotta go with "selfish morons".

 

I'm not the most sensitive of individuals, but if I was confronted with removing a rare aircraft in near-flyable condition that had remained intact for over 50 years, I think my first priority would be to ensure I got it out without screwing it up.

 

Reminds me of the Keystone Cops "archaeologists" of the 19th and early 20th centuries...

As I read through all this yesterday I was reminded of another meticulously planned,well rehearsed operation that was supported all the way to the Nixon White House. I remember it even better because of my own close association during the rehearsal phase and that many of my very good friends participated in this major undertaking that was doomed once they committed because of a bit of missing intel. There were many mistakes during the initial assault with numerous injuries to this failed operation as well as aircraft lost which required immediate diversions to the backup plan. Miraculously, none of our forces were killed but "Operation Ivory Coast", prosecuted just 42 years ago is still lauded for the things they DID accomplish. Of course time is thinning the ranks of those men but even now not one of them feels they were led by planners who gave to them the best there was. Armchair strategists see it differently but they are usually the ones who have very little to say otherwise. If you were to talk to any of those "selfish morons" on that expedition you might actually hear them refute your characterization. Since I have had only similar experiences I cannot speak conclusively to that gig except to listen to any positive offerings as to how it could have been done better, short of the major mistake where haste made waste; the same mistake made on "Ivory Coast" and "Eagle Claw" about twelve years later.

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Had these men flown her out....they would be heroes, they did their best. I'm sorry for all of us who will miss the opportunity to see her fly once again, but

I place no blame.

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Recovering an aircraft and a military operation are two distinctly different types of operations.

 

Taking the time out and taking the aircraft apart and getting it out in parts is a much more practical way of doing it. I believe that is the positive way they should have done it, I didn't believe this after it happened it before they attempted it so their is no Monday night quarterbacking on my side.

Leonardo

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Had these men flown her out....they would be heroes, they did their best. I'm sorry for all of us who will miss the opportunity to see her fly once again, but

I place no blame.

 

Eventually time catches up with all of us and every thing, who knows what will still exist by the time the WWII Centenial rolls around.

 

 

 

RC

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If you were to talk to any of those "selfish morons" on that expedition you might actually hear them refute your characterization.

They can refute all they want; the results of their decisions and the reasons they made those decisions stand against anything they might have to say. In a debate on their intelligence I only need to point to the charred wreck that was a nearly pristine piece of history until they got their mitts on it.

 

They took the "studly" path instead of the safe one and eff'd it up royally, to the detriment of us all.

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Time. You can't 'win' against it, only live with it.

 

IIRC, it was going to sink into the 'lake' when it melted; it had already been 'lost' once.

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Recovering an aircraft and a military operation are two distinctly different types of operations.

Of that I am all too familiar though not different by all that much. The military operation has the benefit of funding and logistics a private venture can only envy. When the military undertook to recover the LC~130s in Antarctica they had a logistics chain all the way back to Lockheed, the Kee Bird expedition was far more limited in the amount of engines, propellers, money and favorable weather. How many of those participants have come forward to actually ridicule the planning, prosecution and safe return of everyone over the course of two seasons? Yes, the aircraft was lost and that is where I make my comparison between a military and a military type operation, the ridicule by those who were not there. Believe me when I tell you that to this day there are people who will still swear that "Ivory Coast" & "Eagle Pull" were fools errands and the fact that neither achieved their final objectives is evidence enough of their rightness. In all three cases the people who were there will tell you how fervently they believed in the success of what they were going to go do and, except for profound disappointment still believe in the plan they went forward to prosecute. In all three failed cases a critical incident occurred contributing to the failure of an otherwise well planned operation. There is a fine line between hero and zero and it is usually a critical link.

Taking the time out and taking the aircraft apart and getting it out in parts is a much more practical way of doing it. I believe that is the positive way they should have done it, I didn't believe this after it happened it before they attempted it so their is no Monday night quarterbacking on my side.

Leonardo

In one of those URLs I provided there is a comment made by a crewmember who overflew that site many times about the folly of trying to take the aircraft apart and bring it out overland and here are some things that come to my mind about such an effort that comes from my own experiences under similar conditions.

Logistics:

1~What conveyance to use to bring out about ten sleds of aircraft parts?

2~How to support the vehicles and crews with fuel and basecamp type facilities?

3~Emergency Plan of Action

4~Financing

Area considerations:

1~Safe route for overland travel. Hidden crevaces, rise and fall of terrain {mountains}

2~Snow vs non snow {sled or trailer?}

These are just the first questions I would have to answer to my team and financiers before I could ever expect a check to be written. I suspect those and many other similar questions were asked and answered before the overland option was discarded and the final choice was made to try to fly the plane out.

As someone else pointed out if they had succeeded they would have been heroes. If I were to apply the standard of zero used here to any named sports hero such as a baseball player then no one should go see their games because they fail to hit the ball over 60% of the time.

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Thanks for explaining the comparison better, I understand what you were getting at.

 

But the argument comes down I have to be a musician before I can criticize music or be the president of the United States before I able to critique a sitting president. Do I have to be camped out with these guys and burn out a b-29 before I can make any kind of critique?

 

I read those articles as well and it doesn't appear they learned anything from the experience. Take apart the aircraft? His reply was "yeah right"... A bit condescending answer that he doesn't back up with anything. Reading his reply was just more of the same "we know better than you" attitude that seemed to be the tone of what led to this tragedy.

 

Having grown up with aviation since I was a kid, being good friends with Bob Hoover son and daughter In law, worked under Ed Maloney and regularly visiting David Tellichet hangers not to mention many other people that are involved one way or another with aircraft recovery that I meet with once a month, it's very much universal with the people I've spoken with that trying to fly a B-29 off the ice that has been sitting idle for 50 years was ill advised and headed for disaster.

 

 

Perhaps this group wasn't the right group to recover this aircraft if they didn't have the cash, time or technology to recover this aircraft safely for both the people involved and the aircraft itself.

 

Leonardo

 

 

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Of that I am all too familiar though not different by all that much. The military operation has the benefit of funding and logistics a private venture can only envy. When the military undertook to recover the LC~130s in Antarctica they had a logistics chain all the way back to Lockheed, the Kee Bird expedition was far more limited in the amount of engines, propellers, money and favorable weather. How many of those participants have come forward to actually ridicule the planning, prosecution and safe return of everyone over the course of two seasons? Yes, the aircraft was lost and that is where I make my comparison between a military and a military type operation, the ridicule by those who were not there. Believe me when I tell you that to this day there are people who will still swear that "Ivory Coast" & "Eagle Pull" were fools errands and the fact that neither achieved their final objectives is evidence enough of their rightness. In all three cases the people who were there will tell you how fervently they believed in the success of what they were going to go do and, except for profound disappointment still believe in the plan they went forward to prosecute. In all three failed cases a critical incident occurred contributing to the failure of an otherwise well planned operation. There is a fine line between hero and zero and it is usually a critical link.

 

In one of those URLs I provided there is a comment made by a crewmember who overflew that site many times about the folly of trying to take the aircraft apart and bring it out overland and here are some things that come to my mind about such an effort that comes from my own experiences under similar conditions.

Logistics:

1~What conveyance to use to bring out about ten sleds of aircraft parts?

2~How to support the vehicles and crews with fuel and basecamp type facilities?

3~Emergency Plan of Action

4~Financing

Area considerations:

1~Safe route for overland travel. Hidden crevaces, rise and fall of terrain {mountains}

2~Snow vs non snow {sled or trailer?}

These are just the first questions I would have to answer to my team and financiers before I could ever expect a check to be written. I suspect those and many other similar questions were asked and answered before the overland option was discarded and the final choice was made to try to fly the plane out.

As someone else pointed out if they had succeeded they would have been heroes. If I were to apply the standard of zero used here to any named sports hero such as a baseball player then no one should go see their games because they fail to hit the ball over 60% of the time.

 

Well said.

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