FROZEN IN GLACIER, WWII P-38 IS ROARING TO LIFE
By ROGER ALFORD
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIDDLESBORO, Ky. -- Glacier Girl
has roared back to life, nearly 60 years after being
abandoned on a glacier in Greenland and entombed under
hundreds of feet of snow and ice.
The P-38 Lightning, one of the fastest planes in the sky
during World War II, was among six fighters and two bombers
forced to crash-land during foul weather in Greenland on July
The crews were rescued, but the
planes were left behind and nearly forgotten.
As a boy in Middlesboro, Roy Shoffner had become enamored with
the piston-engine, propeller-driven P-38s and imagined flying
one of the planes, which could reach 405 mph at altitudes of
up to 35,000 feet.
In the summer of 1992, he
recovered one of the P-38s abandoned in Greenland, and a week
ago he reached a milestone: the 1,275-horsepower engines were
fired up at the Middlesboro Airport, turning propellers for
the first time since 1942.
Even before that, the plane named
Glacier Girl for its years in the ice had become a hit in
Middlesboro, drawing about 3,500 people a month to the Lost
Squadron Museum to watch the restoration.
"People cannot believe we went
down into the ice cap, disassembled the airplane, brought it
up one piece at a time, and now have put it back together,"
"It's bringing in thousands of visitors," said Judy Barton,
director of the Bell County Tourism Commission.
"If it ever flies, I don't
believe we'll ever be able to handle the crowds of people who
will come to see."
Although the United States built
10,113 of the planes, just 24 survive, and only six still are
The pilots of the lost planes had to land on the glacier
because they were low on fuel and caught in thick clouds. It
took rescuers on dog sleds 10 days to reach the 25 crew
members; they got everyone back safely.
By the time Shoffner -- a
73-year-old restaurateur, former banker and 1950s Air Force
fighter pilot -- got to the plane, the decades of snowstorms
had buried it 268 feet deep. "If you can't go through it, and
you can't go around it, you just work up another solution to
the problem," he said.
Crews used streams of hot water
to melt a 48-inch-wide tunnel down to the plane and open a
cavern around it. (Editor's note: This story has been
corrected since original publication to fix the width of the
Disassembling and retrieving the
plane took about four months and cost about $638,000, said Bob
Cardin, director of the restoration effort. Tooling parts to
replace those destroyed by the weight of the ice has pushed
the cost to the $3 million range, Shoffner said.
They hope to taxi the plane at an
air show at the airport Oct. 6-7, and get Glacier Girl flying
again sometime next year.
Shoffner wants to fly it to
Europe. "The insurance company would like to have
someone who has experience flying a P-38 to be the pilot,"
Shoffner said. "But it's my airplane, and I'm going to fly