B-29 serial #45-21847
B-29 serial #45-21847 was constructed at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas, [and]..
delivered to the U.S.Army Air Force on September 13, 1945, eleven days after Japan
surrendered. On the morning of July 21, 1948, under the command of Pilot Robert
Madison, 45-21847 took off from Armitage Field, China Lake, California, to test the
Johns Hopkins Sun Tracker. On board were Co-Pilot Paul Hessler, Flight Engineer
David Burns, Scanner Frank Rico as well as Scientist (and Johns Hopkins graduate
student) John Simeroth. The modified B-29 covered the 200-mile distance to the test
area just east of Lake Mead in less than an hour.
The mission profile called for the plane to ascend to 35,000 feet then descend “as low
as possible” while Simeroth took readings using the Sun Tracker. As the plane
descended over Lake Mead, Madison apparently lost depth perception above the smooth
water.With an indicated airspeed of 230 miles per hour, the huge bomber hit the water
with a glancing blow. The contact with the lake was catastrophic for the B-29 and
three of the four engines were torn off by the impact. The pilot managed to wrestle 45-
21847 back into the air and then ditch the plane in the lake in a controlled crash; all
members of the crew managed to get out alive before the B-29 sank. The five-man
crew scrambled into the plane’s emergency life raft and was rescued approximately
five hours later by a speedboat from Boulder City, Nevada.
|Quiz #88 - December 2, 2006
|1. What kind of aircraft is this? (Big hint: Enola Gay)
2. The men in the picture on the right are standing next to this kind of aircraft.
Why was their plane in the news on July 21, 1948 and again on March 2, 2006?
Just for fun bonus question: Who is the handsome man on the far right? ;-)
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If you have a picture you'd like us to feature a picture in a future quiz, please
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|Thanks to Andrew Yeiser for submitting this week's picture.
Click on thumbnail to see larger image.
2. The plane crashed on July 21, 1948 in Lake Mead
On March 2, 2006 the National Park Service eased the restrictions on divers
visiting the plane at the bottom of the Lake.
3. See picture below.
Co-author of DNA & Genealogy.
Andy spent hundreds of hours on
that same plane performing upper
atmospheric research at 44,000 ft as
a civilian scientist working for the
University of California, Berkeley
on a Naval Research Laboratory
On July 21, 1948, a B-29 bomber crashed into Lake Mead while engaged in top-secret
research. It was not until summer 2002 that the park learned that the plane had been
found by local divers after unpermitted side-scan sonar searches. The discovery of the
wreck set in motion a storm of legal, archaeological, and management issues that pulled
the Park Service in many different directions.
The Upper Atmospheric Air Research Program, the V-2 rocket, and Ballistic
In America, leading academic institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT), Harvard, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins, joined with the Department
of Defense’s research laboratories to solve the technical problems associated with inter-
continental ballistic missile (ICBM) use. Captured German V-2 rockets became test
vehicles for a research program that investigated the physical properties of the upper
atmosphere and sought to solve problems associated with guidance, range, payload
separation, and re-entry of missile warheads from space.
Most rocket flights investigated the physical properties of the upper air and tested the
reliability of rocket designs. Among the variables investigated were solar radiation,
magnetic fields, and radio wave propagation. Many of these experiments were
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|The Inside Story from Andy Yeiser
| while pressurized, etc. He had, however some eccentricities. He was an avid model
train enthusiast, and a large-machinery fancier. He requisitioned an enormous fuel
transport truck from Edwards Air force Base to fuel the B-29s. He greased it and wiped
it down with polishing cloths himself, much to the amazement of the Navy enlisted men
who encircled the transport, wondering at the incredible activity. They could not
imagine an officer performing such tasks–and in public!
But the eccentricity that brought the B-29 down was his habit of flying at 50 feet over a
body of known altitude to set his altimeter exactly. He was convinced that he could
judge 50 feet over water with great precision. On July 21, 1948 he missed it by about
40 feet. The left outboard prop dipped into the water. He pulled up and rolled, but the
inboard prop hit. It was all over. See: http://www.nps.gov/archive/lame/B-29_site_plan.
pdf. The only man injured was Sgt. Frank Rico whose wife was in the China Lake
hospital having a baby when she got the news that the plane was down. Delivery
occurred milliseconds after the news arrived.
Contrary to the glamorized stories in the press,
there was nothing secret about the missions.
The flight was part of the Naval Research
Laboratory’s Upper Atmosphere Research,
Project Apollo, not to be confused with the
later NASA moon landing Project Apollo.
As for the cause of the crash, since it is well
past the unofficial crew secrecy statute of
limitation, I guess it could now be considered
in the public domain. The crash occurred not
exactly as recorded on the official accident
report. Capt. Madison, was a good pilot, very
strict about safety rules in general, e.g. not to
use of the passage from bomb bay to cockpit
Of the three B-29s in the project, one is in Lake
Mead, one burned up on the runway, the Air
Force got one back. One scientist was killed
during the project, but on another flight. Rumor
had it that Capt. Madison was killed in a head-on
crash over Texas. [N.B. This rumor is not true.
See info below about Capt. Madison's demise.]
conducted under the rubric of the Upper
Atmospheric Air Research Program. Extensive
efforts were also made to develop guidance
systems that would ensure missile accuracy over
long distances. Experiments were conducted that
aimed to determine altitude by measuring cosmic
rays in the atmosphere. Among these was a
system that aligned instrumentation at the sun and
used this as a reference for determining the
position of a missile in relation to the earth’s
surface. An early form of this “Sun Follower”
system was tested on V-2 and Aerobee rockets.
Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics
Laboratory also built a version called “Sun
Tracker.” While engaged in experiments with a
Johns Hopkins Sun Tracker, the B-29 (serial #45-
21847) that currently sits on the bottom of Lake
Mead crashed on July 21, 1948.
|It's an interesting piece of Southern Nevada History, but no one is allowed to see it. At
least until now. But the National Park Service is getting ready to make this artifact
available to at least some people.
The Lake Mead bomber is believed to be the only submerged B-29 in the continental
United States, and the park service predicts it'll become a popular dive site. SRC divers
have already mapped the B-29 and also installed mooring buoys nearby to keep dive
boats from dropping anchors onto the bomber. Cables run from the buoys to a weight
next to the plane to guide divers through the dark water.
"It will be a once-in-a-lifetime dive," says Bill Gornet, owner of Dive Las Vegas. "You
really don’t know how big a B-29 is until you’re on top of one—it's monstrous." With a
wingspan of 141 feet and a tail that stands 29 feet high, the B-29 was the heaviest,
most advanced bomber of its time. The Lake Mead plane, with its guns and armor
removed, closely resembled a more famous pair of bombers that were stripped down
for speed: the Enola Gay and the Bockscar, which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, respectively. Fewer than a dozen B-29s are on display at museums and
air parks around the country, including the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution's
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport and the
Bockscar at the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in
Ohio. http://www.smithsonianmagazine.com/issues/2005/october/digs.php and
|What Really Happened to Captain Madison
|February 04, 1949 - U.S. Air Force Captain Robert M. Madison lost
his life when his airplane crashed into Lake Ponchatrain, New Orleans,
Louisiana. Capt. Madison was returning to his home at China Lake when
the accident occurred. Capt. Madison came to NOTS in 1946 and was a B-29
pilot assigned to the upper air research project. Robert was survived
by his wife and two children, a son age 5 and a daughter age 3. Captain
Madison also was the pilot of the China Lake based B-29 that crashed
into Lake Mead, NV.
|Click on arrow to left to start video of survey of
submerged B-29 by In Depth International.
|Click on arrow to left to start video featuring John Simeroth,
crew member of the B-29 when it crashed in Lake Mead.
Co-pilot's station as seen through the
pilot's escape hatch.
|Flight engineer's station.
View from just inside the pilot’s escape
hatch, looking over the control yoke at
the co-pilot’s station and escape hatch.
Co-pilot’s control yoke and right side
panel, with communications switches
and oxygen supply hose and controls.
The propeller data plate, located behind
engine #1's propeller
Co-pilot’s chair looking back towards
the flight engineer’s station, taken
through the pilot's escape hatch.
|Comments from Our Readers
|This was an interesting quiz for me. Back in the
1980s, I worked at the Boeing Wichita plant as an
engineer. The Wichita plant had a proud tradition of
building such planes as the B-17 and B-52 bombers,
and of course the B-29. There is only one
remaining B-29 still flying (“Fifi”) and I have had
the opportunity to see it a couple of times.
While living in Wichita, I bought a box of 1940s-era
Boeing Plane Talk newspapers (printed weekly by
Boeing) and Boeing magazines (printed monthly) at
a local auction. It was quite a snapshot of events of
that time as Boeing geared up to build aircraft for
I will send a couple photos that were in those
publications. One photo shows B-29s on the tarmac
at Wichita, while another shows an early advertisement of the B-29.
The photo of the planes on the tarmac were taken New Year's Day 1945. It is
interesting to see off in the distance... the old Wichita city air terminal (the municipal
airport is now on the other side of Wichita). The old terminal is being refurbished as
the Kansas Air Museum. Visitors can climb to the top of the old control tower and
watch airplanes come and go from the runway (shared by Boeing on one side and
McConnell Air Force Base on the other side). My son and I have visited the museum in
the past. For fun, the old terminal is featured at the following:
Great quiz! Evan Hindman
I also was an aircrewman, but in the Navy. I flew on P-3 aircraft looking for
submarines in the 70s cold war. We used to fly very close to the water for the
Magnetic Anomaly Detection Detection (MAD) to sense that a submarine was just
below the surface as the metal would disturb the magnetic field of the earth. I
remember one time reading a book on the Bermuda Triangle while flying in the triangle
and we were less than 50 feet off the water in a 103 foot aircraft! I was an Inflight
Technician responsible for the electronic systems on the aiircraft and the altimeter was
alway a problem piece of electronics. It was supposed to alarm us at about 340 feet of
the surface but sometimes it did not work right and the pilots used visual on the surface
of the water. Fred Stuart
Andrew Yeiser - I found a link to an article about, "East-West Asymmetry and Latitude
Effect of Cosmic Rays at Altitudes up to 33,000 Feet" in which, "By means of triple
coincidence telescopes mounted in a B-29 airplane, the east-west asymmetry of cosmic
rays has been measured at several geomagnetic latitudes from 0 degrees to 41 degrees
north". Andrew's name was connected to the article but I was not able to gain access
without paying for it.
I have been working on a story about my cousin Lt. Wellman H. Huey (Google
him)who was shot down by the Japanese. He was captured and sent to Rabaul POW
camp where he was executed. I have made contact with many WWII veterans and
historians concerning planes, etc. One freind of mine just gave me information on his
father who worked on the bomb sites of the Enola Gay just before it took off for its
raid on Japan.
Another friend's father in-law was with the 677th Bomber Squadron and called me just
last night to tell about it. Here is a link to a site on the 677th you may find of interest:
http://www.444thbg.org/677thbombsq.htm. Dale Niesen