Pilot Journal
Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Double Trouble

A tale of two P-51 Mustangs attracts a gathering of warbirds

double troubleThe P-51 Mustang is almost universally regarded as the best fighter to emerge from World War II. Talk to Bob Hoover, Chuck Yeager, Bud Anderson or any of a hundred other military test pilots, and they’ll tell you the airplane was nothing less than a stroke of genius when it was introduced in 1942.
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double trouble
Warbirds are wont to attract other warbirds. And such was the case when Lauderback added Crazy Horse2 to the skies over Florida. Immediately on the scene was Glacier Girl, the most famous and most expensively restored P-38 Lightning in the world.
“Maximum takeoff power on the Mustang’s Rolls-Royce engine is 61 inches of manifold pressure, but there’s really no reason to use that much power unless you’re in a bind,” says Lee. “The full 61 inches delivers about 1,720 hp at 3,000 rpm. We suggest instead a maximum of 55 inches of manifold pressure for takeoff. Back in WWII, military avgas was rated as high as 130 octane, but today, 100 octane is the limit. Fifty-five inches won’t cause detonation, it’s plenty to lift two pilots plus full fuel, and it will still provide about 1,400 horsepower, enough to assure excellent performance.”

We caught up with Stallion 51’s two Crazy Horse Mustangs in conjunction with Sun ’n Fun 2005. A huge gaggle of warbirds was in town, including a little of everything from WWII.

It was too good an opportunity to pass up, and Pilot Journal was on hand in Kissimmee when Chino, Calif., Planes of Fame pilot Steve Hinton showed up with perhaps the world’s most famous Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Glacier Girl. In case you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon and hadn’t heard, Glacier Girl may be the most expensive single-engine warbird restoration ever. In total, its resurrection and renovation has demanded nearly 30 years of effort.

The Lightning was one of a flight of six P-38s and two B-17s that took off from Bluie West 8, Greenland (better known today as Sondre Strom Fjord), headed for Reykjavík, Iceland, in July, 1942. As a part of Operation Bolero, the flight was the second attempt to ferry warbirds across the North Atlantic to England via Greenland and Iceland. The gaggle of eight airplanes ran into characteristically bad weather over the Denmark Strait and turned back to Greenland. The airplanes ran out of fuel and crashed on the ice cap barely inland from the southeast coast of the island continent.

All the crews survived the crash landings without injury and were rescued, but the airplanes were left to the elements. Over the years, they gradually became buried underneath 270 feet of snow and ice. Recovery efforts began in the ’70s with warbird fanatic David Talichet. At least three separate expeditions attempted to locate and raise the airplanes before the project was undertaken by Roy Shoffner of Middlesboro, Ky.

In 1992, Shoffner finally located and succeeded in raising the remnants of a single P-38, appropriately named Glacier Girl, from the depths of the ice cap. The severely damaged pieces were ferried to Oshkosh by a DC-3 in time for display at the 1992 AirVenture.

The ensuing restoration process required nearly a decade. When the rebuild was complete, Glacier Girl became one of only a half-dozen P-38s still flying. The airplane now resides at Roy Shoffner’s Lost Squadron Museum in Middlesboro, but the museum regularly employs Steve Hinton, one of the world’s most experienced warbird pilots, to fly the Lightning in air-show appearances around the United States.

Rounding out our flight of classic warbirds was Tim Savage’s B-25 medium bomber, N3155G. The B-25 is a near-perfect photo ship for warbird pictures with its high cruising speed and aft-gun position converted to a photo port. Savage owns Warbird Digest, and his airplane has been specially painted in the magazine’s colors and scheme.

Watching the three fighters in formation on Savage’s B-25, it’s hard to believe that they’re all the result of multimillion-dollar restorations and that each is a classic reminder of an era of aviation now long gone. With the continuing efforts of folks such as Lee, Steve Hinton, Tim Savage, Roy Shoffner and Dick Thurman, the legacy of World War II aviation is in good hands.


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