Yeah, they sure made a hash out of it when they tried to get it out of there didn't they?
"There are more planes at the bottom of the ocean than there are submarines at the top of the sky." Old navel aviator.
I remember watching that Kee Bird documentary on TV. It was a major battle to prep the aircraft for flight, a crushing loss when the mechanic died, and a complete heartbreak when the B-29 went up in flames.
However, I do have an observation that may make me a little less popular, but it's a free world, so let's see how this goes.
From the moment I first saw the bomber skidding around clumsily in the snow with all 4 engines running, I have felt that it was a blessing in disguise that the aricraft didn't have a chance to take off. I don't mean that I'm happy it ended like it did, but I truly question whether the aircraft would have made it off the deck or not. And I really would not have bet money on it.
Sure, it was unladen, which for a long range, heavy bomber means a lot. Several tons "a lot." But there was a lot of drag on the wheels. He started the aircraft, spun it around in a tight turn (pretty tough with no nose wheel steering, apparently) and lined it up. That's when the small APU engine at the back of the aircraft broke off its mount and spilled fuel all over the tail area of the fuse. Boom, fire. This could just as easily have happened half way down the icy runway at some speed. The pilot (name?) was lucky to get out. I don't recall if anyone else was on board at the time.
I hate seeing stuff like this. I hate seeing something this close fail, especially when it's a piece of history like a B-29. But I really question whether the bomber would have made it into the air, or crashed after running out of room and claimed at least one or two more of the expedition. I guess we'll never know.
For those of you who watched the documentary, any feelings on the chances of success taking off from that location, on that day?
I'd highly reccomend anyone interested in the Kee Bird saga to read 'Hunting Warbirds' by Carl Hoffman (ISBN 0-345-43617-2)
However, to answer a few questions --
Apparently the generator which was acting as APU in the aft of the Kee Bird had a jury-rigged gravity feed fuel tank - failure to disconnect and secure the tank meant the jolting taxi run of the Bird splashed petrol onto the hot manifold of the APU, resulting in the fire.
The pilot was Darryl Greenameyer, apparently a bit of a well known figure on the air-racing and warbird scene for many years.
Also on board where Al Hanson, sharing cockpit duties with Greenameyer, and Thad Dulin in the aft section near the APU.
Perhaps it might bes a blessing the Bird didn't actually take off and crash, burn halfway through the take off run - but the 'flight'of the Kee Bird would have been less than one hundred miles, from the lake to Thule AFB.
Despite some 'difficulties'with both the Danish authorities and the USAF, had the team flown the Kee Bird back to Thule AFB they would have been welcomed as heroes - and it's pretty certain the USAF would have then put resources into ensuring the safe return of the Kee Bird to CONUS (it would have been a PR disaster if they didn't... as it was the only disaster happened on the ice and not in the air...)
Apparently there are enough useful bits left at the site to encourage other recovery efforts, but they will be bringing back parts for other restorations and not unfortunately a flying B29.
I'd like to think they could have flown her off the ice, but then again I've also been accused of being an incurable romantic...
I just finished watching the NOVA program for a second time (this time online) since its origional PBS airdate. It was just as frustrating to watch as the first time.
I agree that the crew faced a considerable risk taking off from a runway of ice, but, the ship was a sturdy design with 4 good and new engines making it highly airworthy especially with a minimal load to carry off of the ground. If the pilot was able maintain steerage/control until take-off velocity was reached, I believe that Kee Bird, more likely than not, would have flown. The 8000 hp and 16ft props would have provided the necessary control and lift.
Their failure was not performing a preflight/pretaxi check of the aircraft. The ladder left in place was noted from the start and not only was the apu and its fuel supply jury rigged, it was needlessly left running. If it was switched off as soon as the first engine was started, it might have cooled sufficiently following engine start sequence was completed so as not to have ignited any spilled fuel to begin with. That small gasoline engine was a major fire risk that should have been dealt with. Leaving it poorly installed and left running while ship was moving was a major screw-up that was too painful to watch. The access ladder could have clipped the ground and damaged the hatchway or airframe if torn away from its points of attachment. The crew were talented, highly skilled men, but none the less careless knuckleheads. I would like to point out that it was knuckleheaded of them to have relied on another antique aircraft, the '62 Caribue, that was in marginal condition to rely upon as their lifeline and only source of transportation. That ship was not air-worthy and could have crashed a more than one occasion, especially the zero-flap landing with the bulldozer on board!
I wanted to see that old bird fly, and it had an excellent chance to make it. The pilot and crew failed to exercise reasonable care in pre-flighting that ship. They got impatient and very sloppy at the last minute, and it cost them dearly. Very frustrating to watch them watching their ship needlessly burn with out even attempting a take-off.
I also just re-watched the NOVA episode on the Kee Bird.
Such a shame and a waste. Seems like they could have at least salvaged some good parts from that plane for other restorations. I suppose disassembling the entire aircraft and getting it back to civilization would have been prohibitively expensive.
My limited understanding is that the all-too-cavalier Mr. Greenamyer and his crew of idiots made such a horrible ecological mess, and then hastily left the area in such a horrible mess without cleaning any of it up as they had promised, that there will never be another similar recovery mission approved by the Danish government.
So if someone finds Amelia Earhart's airplane, parked next to MH370, and the secret formula for curing cancer is rolled up inside the Ark of the Covenant, which is sitting in the pilot's seat, next to Elvis playing his guitar in the co-pilot's seat, and Elvis is sitting on top of Obama's birth certificate... and all of this is resting peacefully on the deck of Noahs Ark... and it all happens to be sitting there in pristine museum condition anywhere near Greenland - the Danish government is so sore about what these chimpanzees did with Kee Bird that they will never allow anyone to go get it.