(Image: Staff Sgt Joshua Strang/USAF; WB-29 ‘Lady of the Lake’)
Located 26 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Eielson Air Force Base is home to the agile F-16 Fighting Falcons of the 354th Fighter Wing and also plays host to Red Flag – Alaska combat training exercises. But some way to the north of the base, beyond the end of the long runway, an iconic piece of US Air Force history lies abandoned in a flooded gravel pit. The object in question is a mighty Boeing B-29 Superfortress, which over the years has garnered the moniker ‘Lady of the Lake’.
The abandoned World War Two aircraft, which is submerged in an artificial pond at the side of Transmitter Road, has been a well-known landmark at Eielson AFB for more than 60 years. Until recently, the identity of the Lady of the Lake had been up for debate, though accounts of how it came to be there had endured within the base’s oral tradition.
(Image: Joanie Hunt)
For decades, all that was visible of the sunken B-29 from the roadside was the starboard wing, the distinctive metal lattice of the cockpit and the tip of the vertical stabiliser. The latter is adorned with faded bumper stickers and pockmarked by modern bullet holes, reminders that the Lady of the Lake may be abandoned, but isn’t forgotten.
For years, it’s been widely held that Eielson’s last Superfortress was dragged to the its watery resting place in the 1950s for use in aircrew evacuation drills. But its role as a crash rescue trainer eventually came to an end when the airframe sank deeper into the mud, becoming dangerous. After that, the enigmatic B-29 was abandoned where it lay.
That could have been the end of the story. But a recent underwater survey of the wreck uncovered strong evidence of its identity, confirming long-circulating rumours that the Lady of the Lake was an aircraft of historic significance. In August 2014 the Daily News-Miner spoke with base historian Jack Waid, who’d spent years working to trace the submerged aircraft’s history.
During the meticulously-planned survey, divers recovered the wireless operator’s desk, which sported artwork and, crucially, the aircraft’s serial number: 44-62214. Armed with this information, Waid was able to confirm an Eielson AFB legend that the Lady of the Lake was the aircraft that detected the first evidence of Soviet atomic testing in 1949 – despite the US belief at the time that the Red Army was decades behind in nuclear weapons technology.
(Image: USAF; a B-29 in flight during World War Two)
B-29 Superfortress 44-62214 entered service with the United States Army Air Force in 1944, one of almost 4,000 of Boeing’s state of the art World War Two heavy bombers to roll off the production line. The Superfortress was later converted to a long-range weather reconnaissance aircraft, redesignated WB-29. But after she was damaged beyond economical repair in a ground accident 1954, 44-62214 became a hangar queen and was cannibalised for parts.
There’s no known record of the aircraft being towed from storage at Eielson AFB to its watery grave nearby, but it’s likely that the move took place in 1955 or 1956. Of course, the result is the same: the last surviving example of a WB-29 model Superfortress, which detected a landmark Cold War event, abandoned in a flooded Alaskan gravel pit.
As the modern F-16 fighter jets scream overhead, it seems likely that Eielson’s much-abused ghost plane, the Lady of the Lake, will likely remain submerged for years to come.
(Image: USAF; modern scenes at Eielson as an F-16C overflies the base)