Nickname of an arctic-modified B-29 Superfortress bomber in the US Army Corps' 46th Reconnaissance squadron.
Ran out of fuel when the crew got lost returning from a mission out of Ladd AFB, Alaska, in February 1947. It was subsequently belly-landed on a frozen lake in Greenland; all crew survived and after three days' wait were picked up on February 24th, leaving the aircraft where it lay*.
In 1993, Gary Larkins led an expedition to attempt to restore and ultimately fly the aircraft out. His team was made up of members of the 'Air Pirates': an organisation dedicated to recovering and restoring lost vintage aircraft.
After locating the B-29 and successfully landing their Caribou transport aircraft on the lake shores, a primitive camp was set up. The aircraft was jacked up so its undercarriage could be lowered and a small bulldozer was used to tow it out of the lake, during which it became clear that time had ruined the tyres, amongst many other things. After several flights for spares by the Caribou, these and the castrated propellors were replaced. Reconditioned engines were fitted, one of which was successfully started from the cockpit using the airframe's electrics.
The recovery attempt was cut short due to lack of equipment and the arrival of winter, although the aircraft was virtually ready to fly when the team left it. The first of the two-part documentary on the collective salvage attempts ends with a tantalising shot of the Kee Bird parked in what looks like pristine condition, itching to fly but forced to sit for a 47th year.
A second visit to the site in 1995 by Darryl Greenamyer (after Gary Larkins sold the rights to the site) carried more equipment and personnel. Sitting for a further two years at subzero temperatures had, predictably, exacted further damage on the airframe and the engines. Black snow revealed a number of oil leaks when the engines were tested. These were fixed and final repairs on the rudder were made as well as portions of the underbody (particularly the bomb bay doors), damaged during the landing.
Bad weather and problems with equipment placed considerable pressure on the attempt but the team managed to complete the repairs, restoring the aircraft to flying condition despite the death of chief engineer Rick Kriege from overexertion. A makeshift runway was bulldozed across the frozen lake the Kee Bird originally landed on, the intention being to fly it back to Thule AFB. This would be precarious at best as the lake was several thousand feet short of a B-29's ideal runway length, not to mention the uneven surface dotted by lumps of frozen snow. One in the wrong place could easily knock the B-29's undercarriage off, which was more problematic than it would be for many aircraft since the B-29 is steered by throttle differential, not a steering mechanism on the nosewheel itself.
This was moot however, as during taxiing for the planned takeoff run a fuel pipe broke in the rear of the Kee Bird. Fuel spilled onto a newly-fitted auxiliary power unit which then caught fire. This fire quickly spread through the interior, destroying the airframe where it stood on the lake. The remains sank to the bottom during the following summer's thaw. A tragedy in more ways than one (I was on the verge of tears when I saw this).
Both attempts are the subject of a 1996 PBS documentary titled "B-29 - Frozen in Time", memories of which are the principal source of this node. ASIN: B00004CV89; Catalogue Number: BSC002.
Transcript of the same: <http://members.tripod.com/~manchurianhitchcock/keebee.html>
* airliners.net has an aerial photo of the (pre-recovery attempt) Kee Bird lying prone here: