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From: ssteiner@netcom.com (Stefan R. Steiner)
Subject: The Kee Bird B-29 recovery effort - some insight
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 1996 10:56:48 GMT

Hi,
 
I read with interest all of the posting to this news group about the
ill-fated B-29 Kee Bird recovery expedition. Many saddened me. As you might
recall about 1 1/2 years ago I posted to this news group a story about the
1994 Kee Bird recovery expedition. My brother-in-law, Bob Vanderveen, was
one of the few "lucky" people have gone on that expedition and the 1995 one.
He nearly died in the tragic fire that consumed the B-29. Perhaps the one
item which saddened me the most about many of the posts was the reoccurring
theme that the expeditions were poorly planned. Nothing can be further from
the truth. They didn't just hop over to Greenland one day after having a
cold one on the back porch in California with the thought of simply dumping
a bit of fuel into the Kee Bird, kicking over the engines and flying the
bird back to the States. Come on, just think a moment about the logistics
of the expeditions for just a moment. (By the way, I don't purport to be
an expert as to what happened during the trips nor am I a real aviation
enthusiast)
  -  They had to find, buy, rebuild and test four B-29 carbureted engines.
     They did this work in Ramona, California many, many months before the
     summer 1994 trip. Bob and a number of others spent many long hours for
     months attending to those engines. Spare parts are not in plentiful
     supply for B-29s.
  -  They had to build and scrounge up an incredible amount of parts,
     supplies and tools to take back with them to Greenland, including a
     crane, bulldozer, propellers, cables, tires, bomb-bay doors, food for
     6-8 weeks...
  -  They had to plan with Thule Air Force Base to allow them use the base
     for part of their operations.
  -  Only one barge per year goes between North American and Thule.
     The four rebuild engines along with a lot of the other parts had to
     get on it. This stuff had to get loaded on trucks and carted to the
     east coast in time for the barge departure. This had to be done
     months before they would get to Greenland in 1994.
  -  ...
 
It should go with out saying that this required a lot of planning on
Darryl Greenamyer's part.
 
As to the donation argument, even after all the press about the 1994
exhibition, they couldn't even find even one donor to give them the
necessary clothing for the much colder 1995 mission. Each member had
to buy their own equipment.
 
With that said, here's a little from what my brother-in-law told me
about the last mission. (It's been awhile since he told me this story,
so some of the info might not be completely accurate. Also, Bob hasn't
wanted to talk about it too much.)
 
Bob was one of the four people on the Kee Bird during its last run.
He was stationed in the rear of the plane. While the plane was moving
down the bumpy, icy runway on top of the frozen lake, a lot of dust
swelled up inside the plane and in the rear cabin from the years of
dirt that accumulated in every nook-and-cranny of the plane. He quickly
realized that he had forgotten to wear his goggles and decided to go to
the middle of the plane to search for them. That's when he discovered the
APU was on fire. When he went to get the goggles, he had to leave the
headset for the intercom to the cockpit in the rear cabin. Once
he saw the fire, he knew he had to alert Darryl, Al Hansen and Thad
Dulin in the cockpit. In a matter of seconds the already dust filled
rear part of the plane became densely filled with thick, black smoke.
Bob had to feel his way back to the rear cabin, scrounge around for the
headset and with what little breath he had left, yell FIRE into mic.
He then had to run back through the smoke, breathing in a number of lung
numbing mouthfuls of the acrid smoke, and tumble out through the bomb-bay
doors onto the harsh ice. Meanwhile, as Darryl, Hansen and Dulin were
scrambling to try to get out of the cockpit hatch, one of them discovered
that their quick-release seat buckles didn't want to release. Another was
quick enough to find a rod and helped to pry the buckle open. Within
moments after Bob popped out the plane, the tail fell off and a few
more moments later after the cockpit crew jumped to safety, the fuselage
was fully involved. The plane continued to burn for hours.
 
From what it sounds to me, fire extinguishers would have had no effect.
By the time Bob saw the fire, it was already far too advanced to do
anything. Perhaps if they had a firefighter, in full turnout gear and
wearing a SCBA in front of the APU, they might have had a chance...
 
From what I understand, nothing was worth salvaging after the fire.
My brother-in-law had nearly $10,000 worth of tools, gear and camera
equipment burn up on the plane. He was sleeping on board the plane at
night since his tent somehow didn't arrive in Greenland and so he had
everything in the plane. He completely volunteered on the exhibitions,
while my sister had to work double duty at their Ramona Cafe Restaurant
in Ramona, California while worrying about her husband's safety in
Greenland.
 
I hope this gives a bit more insight as to what happened during the Kee
Bird recovery mission and that being an armchair coach in a warm 70 degree
home makes it easy to criticize the work of a few brave people out in a
desolate place a few hundred miles from the north pole and in sub-zero
degree weather trying to recover a 43-ton plane. Take it apart, yeah
right. I'm happy that there are still a few people willing to take on
incredible risks.
 
Perhaps, the one post about the Recovery effort that got me the most
was the one from the "SR-71 Flying Qualities Lead Engineer". I would have
thought that Darryl Greenamyer, having been one of the first test pilots
of the SR-71 while at the Lockheed Skunk Works, would have deserved a
little more respect from such a person. I'm sorry if I misunderstood the
intent of her posting. Here is a section of her post:
 
  "They're going to have to get someone else to find it for them.  The
   guy who found this one, Giles Kershaw, was killed in Antarctica,
   flying a photo/support gyrocopter for a group of folks about as good
   as the B-29 "rescue" team.  I knew Giles from when we went down to..."
 
Again, I apologize if she really didn't mean to "put down" the rescue
mission.
 
A few other things:
  1. Darryl received permission from Denmark to extract the plane. It was
     not there simply for the taking.
  2. The location of the plane was well known. The B-29 was supposed to
     have been destroyed right after the plane crash landed and its
     crew rescued in 1947, but for some reason the orders were never
     carried out. If they were, all of this would have been a mute point.
  3. The Caribou wasn't chosen for its looks. It had to be able to
     carry a large payload and land and take-off on a short (about 1500')
     loose dirt/muddy runway.
  4. The original engines, which are the late model, fuel-injected versions,
     and removed during the 1994 effort, are (I believe) in California. So,
     yes, something from the original bird is still around.
 
Regards,
Stefan Steiner
stefans@concentric.net (soon to be cancelled: ssteiner@netcom.com)
http://www.concentric.net/~stefans


Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military
From: ssteiner@netcom.com (Stefan R. Steiner)
Subject: Re: The Kee Bird B-29 recovery effort - some insight
Date: Thu, 8 Feb 1996 11:10:36 GMT

Hi,
  I missed one additional bit of information. The Smithsonian Magazine,
September 1995 issue, has a very good article about the Kee Bird 
recovery effort on page 24 called "A hot pilot meets a cold, cold B-29".
Stefan Steiner



Newsgroups: rec.aviation.military
From: shafer@ferhino.dfrc.nasa.gov (Mary Shafer)
Subject: Re: The Kee Bird B-29 recovery effort - some insight
Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996 00:19:44 GMT

On Thu, 8 Feb 1996 10:56:48 GMT, ssteiner@netcom.com (Stefan R. Steiner) said:

S> Perhaps, the one post about the Recovery effort that got me the most
S> was the one from the "SR-71 Flying Qualities Lead Engineer". I would have
S> thought that Darryl Greenamyer, having been one of the first test pilots
S> of the SR-71 while at the Lockheed Skunk Works, would have deserved a
S> little more respect from such a person. I'm sorry if I misunderstood the
S> intent of her posting. Here is a section of her post:
S>  
S>   "They're going to have to get someone else to find it for them.  The
S>    guy who found this one, Giles Kershaw, was killed in Antarctica,
S>    flying a photo/support gyrocopter for a group of folks about as good
S>    as the B-29 "rescue" team.  I knew Giles from when we went down to..."
S>  
S> Again, I apologize if she really didn't mean to "put down" the rescue
S> mission.

I had no intention of insulting the team; I meant only to indicate
that they did not succeed in rescuing the airplane.  I also thought
that I put in a "a hundredth" there, describing the "group of folks
about a hundredth as good as the B-29 "rescue" team", but since it's
not there, I obviously didn't.  I think I got confused in the editing,
having started to write something else and then edited it into this,
because I was trying to make it clear that the B-29 team was
exceptionally qualified and competent, but on re-reading what I wrote,
I did a bad job on it.  Too many esc-Ds, maybe.

I don't work for the Skunk Works and do not have any particular
loyalty to or animus for their personnel, as I am insufficiently
familiar with their work to form a judgment.  I've long admired
Greenamyer for his persistance in turning a structural test article
into a real F-104.  That he ended up ejecting from it over the EDW
PIRA doesn't affect that opinion; gear problems can happen to anyone.
Some aircraft can land without gear and be survivable, but the F-104
isn't one I'd ever try it in.

However, having flown a particular type of aircraft, whether as a test
pilot or a squadron pilot, does not automatically require that I, who
happen to be working on the plane about 30 years later, admire that
person or think that the person is particularly good at anything but
flying the airplane.  It is perfectly possible for an excellent pilot
to be a terrible manager, for example.  I'm not saying that Greenamyer
is a terrible manager, at all, but I'm saying that his having flown
the SR-71 doesn't require me to assume that he's perfect.  Not even
the Blackbird makes people perfect.

I'm sorry about your relative.  What happened was unlucky, but the
competence of the team and its professionalism meant that it wasn't
nearly as bad as it could have been and that is more than luck, that
is skill.


--
Mary Shafer               NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
SR-71 Flying Qualities Lead Engineer     Of course I don't speak for NASA 
shafer@ferhino.dfrc.nasa.gov                               DoD #362 KotFR   
URL http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/People/Shafer/mary.html

 



































































































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