Aviation: Snow Bird

  • Sheila Gibson Stoodley

The P-38 fighter plane known as Glacier Girl is expected to complete its mission to England in July—65 years late, but the circumstances that delayed the flight were extraordinary. The pilot abandoned the plane in Greenland in July 1942, after its Allied squadron, while heading from the United States to England, encountered bad weather, flew off course, ran out of fuel, and was forced to ditch. Fifty years later, an excavation team located the aircraft 268 feet below the Arctic ice and liberated it.

The excavators shipped Glacier Girl—as it was dubbed after being salvaged—to a hangar in Middlesboro, Ky., where restorers worked on it for 10 years, until 2002, when the plane flew for the first time in six decades (see “Fly Girl” September 2004). Glacier Girl was scheduled (at press time) to embark on its latest adventure in June. It was going to depart from Kentucky and then follow its World War II–era flight path from Presque Isle, Maine, to stops in Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland. Its final destination is Duxford, England, where it will appear at the Imperial War Museum’s Flying Legends Air Show on July 7 and 8.
 
Bob Cardin, an ex-military pilot who helped remove the P-38 from the ice, oversaw its resurrection, and is assisting with its historic flight, said in April that every precaution had been taken to avoid repeating the ending of the original trip. These precautions included fitting Glacier Girl with modern avionics and navigational equipment. (Cardin said that when the voyage is completed, the new technology will be removed and the plane will be restored to its original state.) “We’ve given it two weeks to get there, but it should take four or five days,” Cardin said. “We want no pressure to take any risks.”

Glacier Girl now belongs to Rod Lewis, a Texan energy entrepreneur. Lewis purchased it earlier this year from Australian Tony Raftis, the owner of Provenance Fighter Sales of Murrieta, Calif. Raftis had acquired the plane last November from the family of Roy Shoffner, the Kentucky entrepreneur who funded the recovery effort and the restoration. After Shoffner died in 2005 at age 77, Raftis was among a number of collectors and brokers who contacted the Shoffner heirs about buying the plane. He won them over by offering to purchase the contents of a museum in Middlesboro that is dedicated to the lost Allied squadron. He also promised the heirs that the plane would fly to England.
 
When he bought Glacier Girl from Raftis, Lewis also took on the commitments that Raftis had made to the Shoffner family. Thus the Lost Squadron Museum will move to San Antonio, Texas, and Glacier Girl is expected to cross the Atlantic, with Lewis following it in a Pilatus PC-12. (Raftis would not disclose the price he or Lewis paid for Glacier Girl, but he estimated that the transatlantic flight would cost from $200,000 to $300,000.)

After the Duxford event, Glacier Girl is scheduled to fly to Oshkosh, Wis., for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 2007 AirVenture show from July 23 to 29. Cardin said that Glacier Girl will continue to appear at air shows, but it will not attempt another elaborate trek. “This,” he said, “is definitely a one-time deal.”

Provenance Fighter Sales
951.461.3663, 800.992.7951
www.provenancefightersales.com

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