Plane & Pilot
Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Odyssey Of Glacier Girl

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

Picture this: I’m facing backward in Rod Lewis’ Pilatus PC-12, 200 nm out over the Labrador Sea. Snuggled into echelon formation 10 feet off the Pilatus’ left wing, Steve Hinton guides what’s perhaps the world’s most famous warbird, the P-38 Glacier Girl. Ten feet off the right wing, Mustang expert Ed Shipley flies Miss Velma, a newly rebuilt TF-51 Mustang. It’s a warbird fan’s dream.

On the face of it, the mission might not seem that difficult. Glacier Girl needed to fly from Chino, Calif., to Duxford, England, for an appearance at several early-July air shows. I was hired to help expedite the Atlantic crossing, deal with ATC in four countries, provide some educated guesses on weather and routes, and recommend hotels and restaurants for the crew of Glacier Girl, Miss Velma, the Pilatus and a Citation Sovereign support jet.

The P-38’s new owner, Rod Lewis of Lewis Energy in San Antonio, Texas, has graciously provided ample assets for the trip. In addition to Hinton and Shipley, we have a total support group of 11, including D.P. Loftis (the Sovereign’s pilot), Bob Cardin, Lewis, mechanics, photographers, wives and me, the least valuable member of the team.

The plan was for the PC-12 to shepherd the two fighters across the pond in loose formation while the Sovereign charged ahead to make certain all was ready for the warbirds. Range wasn’t a particular problem. With drop tanks in place, both the Lightning and Mustang could manage an easy 1,100 nm, and the longest leg would be only about 680 nm.

Weather permitting, our trip would attempt to retrace the planned original Operation Bolero route: Presque Isle, Maine; Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada; Frobisher Bay, Nunavut, Canada; Sondrestrom Fjord, Greenland; Reykjavik, Iceland; and on to England.

It was the “weather permitting” part that worried me. WWII fighters were never designed for operation in icing conditions or hard IFR, so Hinton and Shipley needed to make the trip in pure VFR conditions if at all possible. In my 150 flights across the Atlantic over the last 30 years, I can count the number of pure VFR crossings I’ve made on the thumbs of one hand.

The trip started in Teterboro, N.J., with a media frenzy more befitting Paris Hilton than a 65-year-old warbird. Hinton, Shipley, Lewis and team leader Cardin gave dozens of interviews, and Glacier Girl and Miss Velma flew by the Statue of Liberty for the cameras before we finally launched for Presque Isle, Maine, a day later.

Our reception at Presque Isle was smaller but equally enthusiastic. We were delayed for two days in Presque Isle for weather; we then dispatched Lewis’s Sovereign jet ahead to Goose Bay beneath the weather at 5,500 feet to scout the route. (Loftis commented, “We certainly didn’t set any speed record, but we may have for fuel burn.”) When the Sovereign pilots called on the satellite phone and advised us that the route was relatively clear and ice free, we launched with the PC-12 and the two fighters for Goose.


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