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astro'navigator

Kee Bird

The Kee Bird was an American B-29-95-BW Superfortress, 45-21768, of the 46th/72nd Reconnaissance Squadrons, 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.

After months of painstaking work on the aircraft and setbacks such as the death of the mission's chief engineer, the repairs were completed and the aircraft prepared to take off from a frozen lake nearby on 21 May 1995. As it was taxiing to its takeoff position, however, a fire broke out inside the rear fuselage and quickly engulfed the whole aircraft. The entire crew on board escaped unharmed, but the Kee Bird was completely destroyed. When the lake thawed in the spring, the wreckage sank to the bottom, where it now lies.

The attempted repair and return of the Kee Bird was documented in the 1996 NOVA television episode "B-29 Frozen in Time".

1947 crew

The flight crew for the Kee Bird's final Cold War mission were:

  • Vern Arnett, Pilot.
  • Russel S. Jordan, Copilot.
  • Talbert Gates, Copilot.
  • John G. Lesman, Astro Navigator.
  • Burl Cowan, D.R. Navigator.
  • Robert "Lucky" Luedke, Flight Engineer.
  • Howard Adams, Radar Observer.
  • Lawrence Yarborough, Gunner.
  • Ernie Stewart, Gunner.
  • Paul McNamara, Gunner.
  • Robert "Bucky" Leader, Radio Operator.

1994 restoration team

The restoration team were:

  • Daryl Greenamyer, Project captain and pilot.
  • Rick Kriege†, Chief engineer.
  • Cecilio Grande, Engineer's assistant.
  • Vernon Rich, Toolmaker and machinist.
  • Roger Von Grote, Supply shuttle pilot.
  • Bob Vanderveen, Cook.

Restoration summary

In 1994, a team of aircraft restorers operating as Kee Bird Limited Liability Co. was led by Daryl Greenamyer to the emergency landing site. Using a 1962 De Havilland Caribou as a shuttle plane, the team departed the U.S. Armed Services base at Thule, Greenland and flew in tools and equipment to the Kee Bird. Over the summer months, the team transported four remanufactured engines, four new propellors, an engine hoist, and a bulldozer to the remote site. The team successfully replaced the engines and propellors, 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 Canada where he died from a blood clot after two weeks. 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. As he was taxiing the Kee Bird to a frozen lake he planned to use as a runway, an auxiliary power unit's jury-rigged fuel tank came loose and a fire broke out in the rear fuselage, which quickly spread to the rest of the aircraft. The entire crew escaped unharmed, but the aircraft was completely destroyed.

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