Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home

B-29 Frozen in Time

Classroom Activity

To follow problem-solving techniques used by scientists in the program and generate strategies for improving upon their solutions.

Materials for each student
  • copy of "Arctic Engineering" student handout ( HTML)
  1. To repair the Kee Bird, the salvage crew had to work with limited equipment in difficult conditions. Although crew members tried to anticipate their needs and plan accordingly, they were often faced with setbacks and malfunctions. Crew members sometimes adapted equipment originally intended for different uses and they often devised solutions based on their previous experiences. Copy and distribute the "Arctic Engineering" student handout. As they watch the program, have students document the rescue and repair of the Kee Bird by filling out the first three columns chart on the student handout.

  2. After viewing the program, review students' charts from their student handouts.

  3. Next, divide students into small groups and challenge them to complete the chart's fourth column by having them generate ideas or strategies for improving the crew's solution to the problem. Remind the class that one of the principal concerns in bringing equipment to the work site was weight: the bulldozer was almost too heavy for the Caribou transport plane, and the engines and other equipment had to be flown to the site separately.

  4. Encourage students to think of equipment that the crew did not bring on the mission, and ask students to explain how their suggestions might have helped the crew.

  5. After the groups have completed their charts, invite a member of each group to share her or his ideas with the class.

Activity Answer

In the first challenge (bringing equipment to the Kee Bird), students should note that the equipment loaded onto the Caribou plane was very heavy, so the crew returned later for the bulldozer.

In the second challenge (landing and taking off from the salvage site), students should note five problems with the Caribou plane:

  1. Its load was heavy, so the crew sent a helicopter ahead to survey the landing site and rescue people if the Caribou plane crashed;

  2. Its wheels got stuck in the mud, so the crew inflated them with propane gas;

  3. A fuse blew, which a mechanic repaired;

  4. An engine failed, which a mechanic repaired; and

  5. An oil leak occurred, which they couldn't repair so they poured oil into the engine while in flight.

In the third challenge (weather and climate), students should note that the B-29's engines were too cold to operate so the crew exposed them to heat. They should also recognize that prolonged exposure to extreme cold affected crew members' physical and mental health. Students should observe that most of these problems were solved through creativity and resourcefulness, not just technical knowledge. As students write their own ideas, they should consider the factors that contributed to each problem.

Teacher's Guide
B-29 Frozen in Time

Video is required for this activity