Plane & Pilot
Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Odyssey Of Glacier Girl

The world's most famous warbird takes on the North Atlantic

1942: A flight of six P-38s and two B-17s departs Sondrestrom Fjord, Greenland, for Reykjavik, Iceland, on their way to the WWII European Theater of Operations as part of Operation Bolero. It’s an ambitious project, initiated by General Hap Arnold, tired of seeing his aircraft ride cargo ships to the bottom of the Atlantic, victims of Hitler’s dreaded U-boats.

Halfway to Reykjavik, the group encounters thick clouds and icing conditions; they turn back for Greenland, only to discover the weather has gone down at Sondrestrom as well. Low on fuel and with no place left to go, all eight airplanes crash-land on the Greenland Icecap, and all 27 members of the eight crews escape uninjured. Nine days later, the group is rescued and evacuated to the east coast of Greenland. The airplanes remain on the cap. They’re slowly swallowed by the snow and ice, gradually becoming a part of the world’s largest ice island.

Fast-forward 50 years. Warbird expert Bob Cardin leads a team of adventurers onto the ice to recover one of the airplanes. The tenth expedition to make the effort, Cardin’s group battles blizzard conditions and minus-20 degrees F temperatures and finally succeeds in retrieving a partially crushed P-38 from 266 feet below the surface of the ice. The team transports the disassembled airplane by ski-equipped DC-3 to the Greenland port of Kulusuk and ships it to Savannah, Ga.

Ten years and $4 million of restoration expense later, owner Ed Shoffer watches his P-38, now affectionately known by its new name, “Glacier Girl,” fly again for the first time since 1942. Chino, Calif.–based Planes of Fame Museum owner Steve Hinton, one of the world’s most knowledgeable warbird pilots, campaigns the Lockheed on the air show circuit all over the States for five years. Now, it’s summer 2007 and time to complete the flight to England as part of Operation Bolero II.


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