Any P-38 Lightning fighter of World War II is a crowd-pleaser. The Lightning called “Glacier Girl” amped that enthusiasm even higher at SUN ‘n FUN 2018.
“Glacier Girl” was literally frozen in time from 1942 to 1992. Part of a flight of six brand-new P-38s and two B-17s heading to Europe to bolster American forces, the then-anonymous future “Glacier Girl” and her compatriots were forced down on the Greenland ice on July 15, 1942. The crews were rescued, but the warplanes had to be abandoned in that remote and inhospitable scene.
Bob Cardin was central to efforts to recover and restore “Glacier Girl,” and he talked about that daunting project during a Victory’s Arsenal Theater session on the corner of the Warbird ramp during this year’s SUN ‘n FUN.
“The original plan was to recover three airplanes,” Cardin said. “As it turned out, we only had time because of the weather to recover one airplane.”
Some pieces flew out via DC-3 in 1992. By the following year, all of the P-38 was in Kentucky for restoration.
The Greenland ice sheet grows in depth each year as annual snow accumulations compress previous snowfalls into ice. As hard as it is to imagine, in just 50 years from 1942 to 1992, that accumulation put “Glacier Girl” 268’ below the snowy surface. That’s like the height of a 27-story building over the dormant fighter.
Evolutions of radical technologies held the key to recovering the P-38 from its truly deep freeze.
Cardin said a heated device that could melt a hole about 4’ in diameter, with pumps to evacuate the water it created, was the tool that made the recovery possible.
Once the belly-landed fighter was reached, the crew laboriously descended and created an ice cavern large enough to free the P-38.
In the ice room, Cardin said dripping water made it necessary to wear rain gear while taking the Lightning apart.
The cavern did not have any artificial structural supports. It relied on the integrity of the ice, which Cardin chalked up to “living on the edge” during the recovery process.
The fighter was carefully disassembled, not cut, to make its eventual reassembly and restoration easier.
He said the melter was again employed to make the access hole into a slot about 5’ by 20’ all 27 stories down so the P-38’s sections could be turned on their side and carefully hauled up.
The P-38 was in better condition than the expedition members expected.
Cardin likes to say “The airplane is about 80% or 85% original, but 100% authentic.”
After years of restoration, the Lightning made its first flight in more than a half century in October 2002 with Steve Hinton at the controls.
Today, the only pilots flying “Glacier Girl” are Hinton and the Lightning’s current owner, Rod Lewis.
Cardin told the SUN ‘N FUN crowd he can verify that only five pilots have flown this P-38 from the time it rolled out at Lockheed until today.