When the party went out in the summer of 1994, the initial finding was that the Kee Bird was in excellent condition. There was no detectible corrosion, minimal damage from the forced landing, and the interior of the craft was nearly complete. The first task was to dig the B-29 out of the snow and lower the landing gear which required manually hand cranking and locking the into place. They used cargo pallets to secure the still inflated tires. The team reset the propellers, drained and replaced the old oil, added fuel to the engine, and installed new batteries. After a few moments of cranking, the Kee Bird was brought back to life!
The plane was secured until they were able to return the following summer when the team, sans Larkins and now directed by pilot Darryl Greenamyer, used a 1962 DeHavilland Caribou as their shuttle plane. In addition to necessary tools and equipment, they shuttled in four new propellers, an engine hoist, new tires, and a small bulldozer. The team successfully replaced the four 18 cylinder radial engines, four sets of pre-balanced 16 foot long propellers, and mounted new nylon tires. Darryl had also installed a new satellite navigation system. What was anticipated as being a month long project took twice as long due to weather and unforeseeable challenges. The crew would return nine months later. On May 21, 1995, the plane was ready to take flight again.
The plan was to take the plane to Thule Air Force Base, make any further repairs before flying back stateside and finishing restoration before the official national debut at Reno National Championship Air Races. Unfortunately, the Kee Bird was never able to make the debut.
A crude runway was constructed on the lake using the bulldozer. It took full power to break the tires free of the ice. Using the engines to steer the plane, Darryl directed it towards the runway. The plane bounced and shook from the snowdrifts and suddenly smoke was seen coming from the cockpit. A jury-rigged fuel tank suspended above the auxiliary power unit (APU which is a four cylinder motor that helps start the main generator of the plane) had been knocked loose, causing the fire. The fire consumed the entire fuselage and tail. All crew were able to escape unharmed, only minor smoke inhalation and flesh burns.
“World in Peril”, 1994 by Ken White *Book available in our bookstore
NOVA special, 1996, “B-29 Frozen in Time”
B29-Frozen for 50 Year