|Glacier Girl draws a large crowd while on display at AirVenture 2012. (photo by Paul Bowen)
By Barbara A. Schmitz
When you look at the P-38 Glacier Girl you can't help but admire its meticulous renovation. But when you understand the story of how she came to life after 50 years under Greenland's ice cap, you really appreciate her beauty.
Bob Cardin was project manager in 1992 when they successfully brought the plane up - in parts - from beneath 268 feet of ice.
The plane was left on the ice with five other P-38s and two B-17s of Operation Bolero after weather and low fuel forced them down, stranding 25 on the ice for 11 days.
Twelve other groups led expeditions to retrieve one of the planes locked in ice, but the 13th time was the charm.
In 1992, exactly 50 years after the crews' rescue, Cardin's group arrived, set up to melt the ice, and freed a P-38 that would become known as Glacier Girl.
It took money - mounds of it - 38,000 pounds of equipment, and 6,000 pounds of food to recover the P-38 from the Lost Squadron.
It was far from easy.
The challenges were immense.
First, the best of conditions on a glacier are no day in the park.
There's snow - lots of snow.
They slept in tents and put in an outhouse, and each night snow would re-cover the structures.
They'd climb out and shovel their way back in. "But everyone would wait to go to see who would shovel out the outhouse first," Cardin said.
But they did have some nice days, and those were spent working. They first melted a 268-feet hole 6 inches in diameter to confirm the plane was there.
"It took us three days and nine tries to hit the airplane," Cardin recalled.
Once the P-38 was located, they used a piece of equipment that resembled a top. It melted the ice by circulating hot water and pumping it through copper tubing coiled around the outside. The machine cut a 4-foot-wide hole, and they used it five times to enlarge the hole enough to remove the 7,000-pound center section of the plane.
But before that they had to free every piece of the plane from ice. They used a hot-water cannon with men going down the shafts using cables to disassemble the P-38 piece-by-piece before raising it to the surface.
Eventually, the plane and its pieces made it to project funder Roy Shoffner's hangar in Middlesboro, Kentucky, where restoration began in November 1992. "The more we took apart, the more we realized things were broken," he said. "In the end we had one piece left and a big pile of junk."
But because the plane was the only one of its kind they salvaged as much as possible, eventually salvaging 80 percent of the P-38F.
After 10 years restoring the plane to flying condition she first flew in October 2002. In June 2007, the Glacier Girl began Bolero II, an effort to reach its original destination.
But a cylinder crack forced the P-38 to turn around - yet they still haven't surrendered.
Cardin said if things continue to go well, Glacier Girl would try to make one more trip to Europe via Greenland and complete the mission first started 70 years ago.
"And then we'll come back here to celebrate."