The Mystery of King Bird 50
(written by and copyright James L. Choron)
On the night (Thule time) of December 23rd, 2001, the Air Traffic Control at Thule AFB began receiving calls from an unidentified aircraft. The weather was horrible... as is usual for Thule... -52 Celcius, with snow and sleet driven by a twenty mile per hour wind, with gusts to thirty five miles per hour... The call letters of the aircraft were badly garbled, as was the voice transmission, which was coming in on an unused (obsolete) harmonic of the standard frequency. The only thing that they could make out clearly was the aircraft's designation... "King Bird Five Zero". This is not a call, or an official designation of any sort, it is the designation of a particular type of aircraft.
The aircraft showed on radar as an intermittent blip of considerable size, although not as large as modern heavy aircraft. Radar also indicated three other things... First, the incoming aircraft was extremely slow- moving, by accepted standards, and secondly, it was extremely low. Any experienced pilot would, if able, get above the current storm front, and remain there until the last possible minute. The front was a big one... extending to an altitude of some 42,000 feet, but this altitude was well inside the maximum ceiling of any known aircraft in service the size of the incoming "visitor." Unless... the "visitor" had sustained damage, such as loss of cabin pressure, and could not rise to this altitude. Finally, there was one other consideration... no military aircraft was scheduled to be incoming at the time, and there were no scheduled civilian flights known to be in the area.
Air Traffic Control at Thule Air Force Base first started making intermittent contact with the aircraft when it was approximately 100 nautical miles out of Thule, over the Atlantic. Somehow, it had simply, very suddenly, "appeared" as a faint "blip"on Radar, fading in and out as it progressed slowly Eastward, right in the midst of the storm. Radio contact had begun at approximately the same time. Messages incoming were regular, but garbled by interference from the foul weather, coming in on a harmonic (side band) of a long unused military frequency. The transmissions were voice only, but the voice appeared to be steady, firm and unconcerned by the horrendous flying conditions prevalent at the aircraft's cruising altitude 30,000 feet. The timing indicated a set pattern of transmission, such as the kind of routine positioning reports used in the days before Radar was either common, or dependable. There was no transponder signal, and no radar signal incoming from the aircraft. Thule tower remained in regular contact with the incoming aircraft for slightly over one hour.
The last message came at 01:07 GMT, at which time the aircraft was a solid radar image, and approximately 10 nautical miles from Thule AFB's main runway, over the lip of the glacier. The message, in clear transmission, stated... "We show to be ten knots out, and should be able to see you... but we can't see you... light up the night..."
Thule AFB is accustomed to having unscheduled visitors… many of whom are in distress. They are capable of and quite willing to “light up the night.” In fact, with all of the emergency lighting in use, the main runway at Thule is clearly visible, a good deal more than ten miles out… in the worst possible weather. They can also set off a radar beacon, which is capable of literally making the hull vibrate on incoming aircraft. None of this, however, proved to be of any value. Immediately afterwards, the inbound craft vanished from Thule's radar screens, and there were no further radio transmissions.
Owing to the conditions... darkness and storm... it was several hours before a search could be mounted for what was assumed to be an aircraft down on the Greenland Glacier. At first light, a search party was dispatched to the last known location of the incoming contact. After a search of approximately two hours, they reported back to Thule AFB, by radio, informing the Search and Rescue Headquarters that they had found the "wreckage" of a US Air Force Boeing B-50D Superfortress Bomber... which had belly landed on the glacier, in approximately four approximately sixteen feet of snow, twelve nautical miles out, in a direct line with Thule AFB's main runway. The crew was in place... dead.
There was no significant damage to the aircraft other than being completely out of fuel. The amount of snow on the surface of the glacier apparently cushioned the impact of the bomber. The crew, according to the logbook, knowing that they were reasonably close to Thule AFB, chose to remain onboard rather than risk the weather... thinking that a search would be imminent.
The aircraft's logbook showed to be up to date until approximately the time of the last transmission received by Thule Air Force Base Air Traffic Control... But... it also showed that the flight had originated at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, on December 22nd, 1948 and that the elapsed time of the flight… the number of hours actually recorded by the crew… was consistent with a flight from McGuire to Thule, at the maximum operational speed of this type aircraft, given the weather conditions prevalent the current time. They were, in fact, only two hours behind schedule, due to the fierce headwind that they appeared to have been fighting. This headwind also accounts for the aircraft's forced landing on the glacier, as the power requirements placed on the engines under such adverse conditions, more than doubled normal consumption. The logbook, which is allegedly up to date until shortly after the time of the planes crash landing, also indicates that the crew was aware of their near proximity to Thule AFB, and expected immediate, or near immediate rescue
They therefore elected to stay with the craft, rather than venture off toward the Air Base. The condition and composition of the crews uniforms indicate that their chances of survival in the prevalent surface conditions would have been slim to none. Since the B-50D was developed long before the advent of pressure suits, or extremem high altitude flying were more than record-setting novelties ... the crew was equipped only with "normal" winter-issue uniforms of the day, augmented by heavy "B-2" coats. While heavier clothing was available at the time of the flight's supposed origin, none was found onboard. While this seemed strange to the would-be rescuers, research later discovered that the winter of 1948/49 had been considered a "mild" one by Greenland standards, and the issue would have been quite sufficient for that time.
All this aside, the crew seems to have done the logical thing by remaining in the aircraft, where there was some protection from inclement weather. As it was, they seem to have survived for several hours after their landing… Examination on site, and a later Coroner's report allegedly indicates that the crew died from shock and exposure. While the bodies were partially frozen, there was no "frost burn" or other associated damage from prolonged freezing. Time of death was fixed at ten hours, plus or minus two, before discovery, which is consistent with the time of the last radio/radar contact with "incoming" unidentified aircraft by Thule Air Traffic Control.
"Unofficially" the crew and aircraft have been identified as one which went "missing, and was presumed lost" ... presumed to have crashed into the Atlantic, due to "unknown circumstances"... on a routine patrol deployment, “some years ago.” Since downed aircraft are common on Thule, and the nature of the far northern location often means that such aircraft are soon covered over with literally dozens of feet of snow, this “explanation” is plausible.
The aircraft, a type that went completely out of service with the Air Force in the late fifties, was the last propeller driven bomber in the US Air Force inventory. The serial number and log book designation of the recovered aircraft, match the fragmentary transmissions received by Thule AFB Air Traffic Control and match the "lost" flight of 1948.
The Heavy long range B-50 Superfortress was developed from the earlier, Second World War era B-29 Superfortress, the same type of aircraft which delivered the first Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The primary difference was a slightly larger rudder assembly, and more powerful, turboprop engines. It was an impressive aircraft, for its time … and the last propeller driven bomber ever accepted for service in the US Air Force.
Long range heavy bomber
Four turboshaft Pratt & Whitney R-4360-35 engines
99 ft, 30,2 m
141.2 ft, 43 m
1,720 sq. ft 159.8 sq. m
84,714 lb, 38,426 kg
Weight max. takeoff,
173,000 lb 78,472 kg
35,650 ft. 10,900 m.
244 mph, 393 km/h, max. 395 mph, 635 km/h
Rate of climb
sea level 620 ft/min, 189 m/min
combat (max. power)
2,200 ft/min, 671 m/min
2,396 miles, 3,856 km
Total mission time
Maximum load (bombs)
28,000 lb, 12,700 kg
Eight (pilot, copilot, engineer, radio-electronic countermeasures operator, left-side gunner, right-side gunner, top gunner, tail gunner)
13x . 50-caliber machine guns
Thule Air Force Base
While impressive for its time, beyond any doubt the most sophisticated aircraft of it's type then in service, a quick look at the statistics will show that it was ill equipped to handle a major Arctic Storm … being too slow and inefficient in its fuel consumption to “fight its way through,” and lacking the altitude maximums needed to “get above” such a storm. The aircraft also did not have a pressurized cabin. Like all aircraft of this era, the crew depended only on breathing masks, and heavy clothing for comfort, coupled with a cabin heater that operated only when the engines were in use.
According to reports, the aircraft has, since it's recovery, been transported to a maintenance hanger at Thule Air Force Base. It is not badly damaged. The plane landed in heavy snow, and aside from some relatively minor "scarring" and a four slightly bent propeller blades, there is no real damage. It is estimated that the old plane could be flown out of Thule in less than three days ... depending on weather conditions ... and ... if someone could be located who knows how, and has the proper certifications, to fly this type of aircraft. According to rumor, a search for such a person is currently underway. Maintenance reports also allegedly confirm that the cause of the crash was very simple ... out of fuel, and a large aircraft, of this type, can only glide so far ... especially into a twenty to thirty-five mile per hour plus headwind.
The Air Force has supposedly contacted existing next of kin. The statement says that they have found the remains and that they are from a crash that happened "some years ago." The bodies are being "prepared" for return to the US An "official" statements to the press ... not as yet released ... but allegedly scheduled to be released within a few days ... will state that intact wreckage has been found, but will give only the date of departure of the flight and "official" time of loss... 22 December 1948... and no further details.
What is the true story behind King Bird Fifty? The odyssey of the venerable old Cold Warrior poses more questions than answers...
It would appear that "something" swallowed this plane and it's crew in 1948, and spit it out in 2001. There is no evidence that the aircrew was aware of the passage of time, other than normal flight time from McGuire to Thule, plus the two hours or so that they were put behind by the storm. Nor, had the crew, according to reports, aged any. Their apparent ages match the age recorded for them at the time of their departure, over half a century ago.
Is there some kind of natural “vortex”… a “portal” that randomly opens in the fabric of space and time? Are there places in the world in which one can be “swallowed up,” only to be returned … at the same place, in a future or past time… If this is so, then all we know of Physics and the so-called “laws” of nature, are only the beginnings of a dream…
What would have been the case if the crew of King Bird Fifty had survived? What if they had been “rescued”? What would have been their fate? Would it have been the imprisonment of “government secrecy”? Would it have been madness? Both?
Is there some short of "paradox shield" in effect which prevented the crew from surviving the crash? Were they, in effect, already dead when the aircraft landed? Had they been "dead" ever since the aircraft disappeared some fifty-three years ago?
Is the flight of King Bird Fifty some sort of naturally occurring, airborne, "Philadelphia Experiment?"
Is this incident indicative of some sort of "Bermuda Triangle" type anomaly?
Has this kind of thing happened before?
Does someone, in fact, know exactly what happened to King Bird Fifty and her crew? Is it being covered up, like so many other "unexplained" and "unsubstantiated" paranormal occurrences ... for reasons of "national security" or for fear of causing a "panic" ... or is King Bird Fifty the subject (some might say "victim") of some darker, and more well-thought-out scenario ... part of some "experiment" that people are "better off" not knowing about ... some hidden aspect of the "Cold War" from which the general public is being "protected"?
Did the incident happen at all, or is it yet another "mystery" and growing legend of the far north? Is it yet another "tale of the unexplained" ... the kind that seems to simply grow around aviation, as they once flourished around the ships which plied the oceans?
There are always “rumors” … like the “rumors” which surround the Roswell Disc and the Bermuda Triangle ... like the "rumor" about King Bird Fifty. “Rumors” that might never come to light … or … maybe someday, they will.
Who knows? Almost certainly, someone does.
Copyright, December 2001, WinterSteel Publications
Due to the nature of the King Bird Story, it is very difficult to "name names", as most of the sources are military or government, and would therefore be in a considerable amount of danger, if their identities were known.
The original source was two fairly highly placed military people, serving at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland.
The contact at Luke Air Force Base is a Civilian (now) employee of the United States Government.
The original contact at Wright Patterson Air Force Base was a VERY senior Air Force officer.