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Glacier Girl: The Back Story

How it got trapped in the ice, and how it got out.

The journey on which the world’s most famous fighter airplane is now embarked is really the third leg in a trip that started 65 years ago, when Great Britain was holding off Nazi Germany and the United States was rushing warplanes to British airfields. In 1942, Glacier Girl was a brand new Lockheed P-38F, one of hundreds of airplanes sent as part of U.S. Army Air Force had its pilots base-hop across the North Atlantic from Maine to Scotland. Not all squadrons made it across, and this particular one was forced down by weather to an emergency landing on an ice cap in Greenland. For Glacier Girl, that was leg one.

From This Story

The following story, originally published in the January 1993 issue of Air & Space/ Smithsonian, recounts adventures during the second leg of the journey, a 22-year slog through recovery and restoration that couldn’t have been completed without the ingenuity, stamina, and fortune of a Roy Shoffner, a Kentucky businessman, named the P-38 “Glacier Girl” and began to plan the completion of its mission.

Glacier Girl’s new owner Rod Lewis, a pilot and president of the Lewis Energy Group in San Antonio, Texas, bought the fighter last year and immediately started preparations for the third leg of the journey. Lewis owns seven other warbirds, including Rare Bear, a Grumman F8F Bearcat racer, which set the closed-course world speed record of 528.3 mph in 1989. “I’m interested in preserving the history and heritage,” he says. He was committed to having Glacier Girl complete the mission even though, he acknowledges, “this trip is going to cost some bucks.”

“Besides that,” he continues, “it’s a hell of an adventure. I’ve been drilling oil and gas wells since 1982, so I guess I was looking for the equivalent experience in aviation.” Lewis will fly his Pilatus PC-12 on the journey, while warbird expert Steve Hinton flies Glacier Girl and airshow performer Ed Shipley flies a restored North American P-51. The group flew a scouting expedition earlier this month to locate alternate airfields in case the weather once again forces an unplanned landing. “In that part of the world, weather changes are quick and constant,” Lewis says. “We went by some old World War II airfields that had gravel runways and still had fuel barrels sitting around.” He expects to make six to eight stops a long the way. “You know, it wears you out flying these old airplanes. We can cross 1,000 miles if we need to.”

Glacier Girl will appear at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin the last week of July. And the future? Lewis expects the warbird will make an appearance at a few airshows every year.

Iced Lightning (reprinted from Air & Space magazine, January 1993)

by Karen Jensen

Lieutenant Harry L. Smith had a 23-year-old’s knack for popular expressions and a military pilot’s level head. Before attempting to land his P-38 on a forlorn stretch of the Greenland ice cap, he flew over another pilot’s Lightning, which had just slammed over on its back in the slushy summer snow. Smith was searching hopefully for some sign of life in the upside-down aircraft. "Susie-Q, it’s happened! It’s true!" Smith rhymed in a journal written shortly after the July 15, 1942 crash landing of six P-38s and two B-17s. "The lad is climbing out, he’s waving at me. Old Mac! I pull ’er up in a roll over him, and circle to approach"

Smith throttled back at 200 feet, cut off the fuel, feathered the props, and slid, wheels up, into a snowy landing. Before sprinting off to join his downed buddies, he logged in details of the light and landing, shrugged off his parachute, removed his helmet, and threw the keys to the P-38’s canopy inside the cockpit.

Over 50 years later, Brad McManus, the pilot of the overturned P-38, looked back on that final detail with amusement. "We all laughed at how he anticipated that somebody might need those keys," McManus says. Foresighted as he was, however, it’s doubtful that Harry Smith, who died 10 years ago, could have imagined what those circumstances might be.

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