WarbirdsNews has learned that the National Parks Service has decided to allow divers to visit the Boeing B-29 Superfortress which has lain on the bottom of Lake Mead on the border between Arizona and Nevada. As many WarbirdsNews readers will be aware, divers first rediscovered B-29A 45-21847 following a lengthy investigation in 2001.
The Superfortress crash-landed on the lake on July 21st, 1948. It was involved in scientific experiments with the Upper Air Research Project to study the variation in solar radiation with altitude. The plans required the aircraft to measure the radiation profile from nap-of-the-earth to 30,000′ and back. Flying from Inyokern, California, the crew were performing one of the last scheduled profile flights of the day. They had just descended from the stratosphere, and were leveling out low over the lake, flying at 250knots. Unfortunately, the aircraft’s altimeter had an incorrect setting, and the lake was so smooth and reflective that judging altitude visually proved very difficult. The pilot thought he was at 300′, but he was actually so low that the propellers struck the water’s surface, and struck it hard. Three of the four engines tore from their mounts, while the fourth caught fire. The left wing and empenage received significant damage as well. The crew were able to skip their aircraft back up a couple of hundred feet, but flying on one, damaged engine was not an option, so they carefully set her down, tail first into the water. The bomber floated for a short while, long enough at least for the five man crew to safely take to their life rafts. Then she slipped beneath the rippling water and that was the last anyone saw of her for the next five decades.
In Depth Consulting conducted the sonar survey of Lake Mead, looking for the sunken bomber in 2001. It was a challenging operation given the ragged, varying terrain. You can get a good impression of how they went about their search in their own words if you CLICK HERE to read the formal paper they presented at Underwater Intervention. They went public with their discovery on August 9th, 2002.
The National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center conducted a thorough survey of the site in June, 2003, and then closed it to diving to protect “the historical resource.” Sadly, they refused to entertain raising the aircraft to preserve it though. In the latest decision, perhaps driven by the budgetary cutbacks of the sequester, the National Park Service has chosen to allow a limited number of dives to the site (just 100 visitors over a 12 month period) as a way to generate a little extra revenue for the recreational park. Apparently the bomber has received a lot of sedimentary deposits of late, due to shifting underwater currents, and the wreck is festooned with small mollusks, which doesn’t bode well for its long term future.
The National Park Service’s press release continues as follows….
The two-year commercial use authorizations will include the authorized services of scuba dive guiding on the B-29 site, limited to 100 client dives during each 12-month period of the permit, and unlimited scuba instruction and scuba charter for other locations at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
The CUAs will be issued following a competitive selection process based on resource protection, ability to operate safely and the ability to interact effectively with National Park Service staff.
To view the opportunity, visit HERE.
All applications must be received no later than 4 p.m. Jan. 23. For more information, contact Heidie Grigg at 702-293-8923.
There is a more in-depth article HERE featuring additional details and photos.