On July 15, 1942, as part of operation Bolero, a flight of six P-38s and two B-17 bombers, with a total of 25 crewmembers on board, took off from Presque Isle Air Base in Maine headed for the U.K. What followed was a harrowing and life-threatening landing of the entire squadron on a remote ice cap in Greenland after encountering ominous weather conditions and low fuel problems. Miraculously, none of the crew was lost.
Having made successful landings, the job at hand was survival and rescue. After three days on the ice, a Morse code message received by one of the radio operators confirmed their condition and position. Two days later supplies arrived. They passed the time listening to music and news picked up on the radio from Iceland and England. More supplies were dropped in the following days as rescue efforts had begun in earnest.
Loaded down with equipment and personal effects, members of the squadron struggled through knee-deep snow and ice for hours before reaching a cliff at the ocean’s edge. Several hours passed before the Coast Guard cutter Northland arrived. After boarding, they were treated to showers, dry clothes and an extravagant navy meal, after which they were sent home.
Fifty years later a small group of aviation enthusiasts decided to locate that squadron, who had come to be known as “The Lost Squadron,” and to recover one of the lost P-38s. It turned out to be no easy task, as the planes had been buried under 25 stories of ice and drifted over a mile from their original location.
|Date of Manufacture
|Lockheed P-38F Lightning
|2 x Allison V-1710-89/91
|Rate of Climb
|Number of Crew
|1 x 20mm Hispano AN-M2C cannon & 4 x .50-caliber Browning machine guns
|4,000 lbs. or 10 x 5-in. rockets
One of WWIIʼs most fearsome warbirds, this twin-boom P-38 Lightning lay buried under arctic ice for 50 years, and eluded recovery attempted by more than a dozen expeditions. The only rescued survivor of an entire squadron of P-38s and B-17s attempting a crossing over Greenland in 1942, Glacier Girl was finally pulled piece by piece from under 268 feet of ice on the 13th effort to retrieve her. Finally, Kentucky businessman Roy Shoffner financed the Greenland Expedition Society, a team formed by Patt Epps and Richard Taylor specifically for the recovery effort, and brought Bob Cardin on board as expedition leader.
Ingenuity and endurance brought Glacier Girl back to the surface where she had crash-landed half a century before. The team created a device they called the “Super Gopher,” which circulated heated water through a metal cone to melt holes 27 stories deep and reach key sections of the plane. Then they began the long, dangerous process of dragging out the pieces, including the 3-ton 17-foot-long fuselage. It took 20 minutes to lower each worker to the aircraft – an eternity in the claustrophobic 4-foot-diameter shafts – and three days of hand-cranking to bring up the last piece. The final section emerged on August 1, 1992 and, thankfully, the team’s worst fears were not realized. Glaciers have a tendency to crush anything they’ve swallowed, but the P- 38ʼs sections were in good enough shape that the team optimistically estimated a two-year restoration. They were about eight years shy of the mark.
It would take a grueling decade of reconstruction. On Oct. 26, 2002, 20,000 turned out to watch Glacier Girl taxi down the runway for her first public flight since her long, icy slumber. More than one veteran fought back tears of amazement at the factory-condition fighter, once snow-bound now soaring effortlessly into the Kentucky sky as if her mission were never interrupted. The restoration team had used around 80 percent of the plane’s original parts over a period of 10 years to bring the aircraft back to factory condition. Glacier Girl owns the only complete set of working P-38 machine guns in existence and is considered by many to be the finest warbird restoration flying.
In 2006, Rod Lewis purchased what would become the signature aircraft – the very emblem – of the Lewis Air Legends collection. The only thing to rival the wonder of Glacier Girlʼs story is to see this rare bird roaring over the field at air shows and special event across the U.S.
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