‘Glacier Girl’ makes her Sun ‘n Fun debut

“Glacier Girl,” the famous P-38E salvaged from beneath Greenland’s ice cap and restored to perfection, arrived at Sun ‘n Fun early on opening day of the fly-in in Lakeland, Fla. Despite the hour, she was surrounded immediately by admirers.

“She’s like a rock star,” said advance man Richard Buchanan. “She gets a lot of attention wherever she goes.”

“Glacier Girl” was part of a squadron of P-38s, guided by two B-17s, all of which were forced down on the Greenland ice cap during a 1942 ferry flight to Britain. Eventually, ice and snow covered them, accumulating over the years.

When they were found, after years of searching, they were more than 268 feet down.

Pat Epps, owner of Epps Aviation in Georgia, heard about the “lost squadron” in 1980 and organized the first of 13 expeditions to find the airplanes. When they were located using special electronic equipment, the group had to invent and then build unique machines to melt a shaft down to them.

The one B-17 they found was crushed beyond any hope of restoration, but one of the P-38s was thought to be salvageable. In 1992, she was hauled to the surface in pieces, through the ice shaft.

By that time, the project had been taken over by a team headed by Kentucky businessman Roy Shoffner, with Bob Cardin managing it. Cardin’s crew completed the salvage, then undertook the restoration, which required another decade of effort. The result of that work was seen at the Sun ‘n Fun Warbird area. The legendary aircraft also flew demonstration flights throughout the week of the fly-in.

“Glacier Girl” is the only surviving P-38E, and one of only two P-38s known to be flying at all. At least six more are flyable but not currently flying, according to Steve Hinton, the only man trusted by Shoffner to pilot the priceless airplane. Cardin added that of 10,038 P-38s built, only 25 to 36 survive, depending on whose numbers you believe.

Shoffner’s superb restoration lets us see a P-38 so beautifully detailed that she could not have been assembled so carefully by the Lockheed factory during World War II. Each of her more than 60,000 components has been restored or recreated to perfection, and is being kept that way by her dedicated supporters.

Ed White, who restored the wiring, put some 3,000 hours into that part of the project, alone. While the original wiring could not be used in an airplane intended to be flown, nearly every other electrical part was disassembled, cleaned, meticulously repaired, re-assembled and is flying in the airplane.

“Glacier Girl” had logged only 74 hours when she landed on the ice. Since restoration, another 132 hours have gone into her log. She is, unquestionably, the lowest-time P-38 in the world.

It is possible, although unlikely, that some of the airplanes in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum are more authentically restored – but they don’t fly. “Glacier Girl” surely represents perfection in a flyable World War II airplane.

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