Glacier Girl

The Lockheed P-38 saved from an icy tomb is now the star attraction in a previously quiet Kentucky town.

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By late morning, the low gray clouds clinging to the green mountains encircling the airport had dissipated. Hinton put fresh batteries in his hand-held GPS navigation aid (the only modern gear in Glacier Girl is the radio), and Cardin’s assistant, Jeff Cupp, and volunteer Richard Buchanan slowly pushed the propellers through a couple of revolutions to work some oil through the engine. All morning, folks had been coming in from down the road and throughout the country: Bud Holecheck was here from Baltimore, Maryland, and Charles and Glenna Dillow had just ridden from Florida on their Honda Gold Wing motorcycle.

“Get some fire bottles [fire extinguishers],” snapped Cardin, as Hinton climbed into the cockpit.

“Clear on the left?” yelled Hinton.

“Clear,” shouted Cardin.

The left engine’s propeller spun and black smoke poured from the exhaust as the engine caught and roared to life. Hinton’s description was spot-on: The V-12 emitted a smooth, powerful purr, not the throaty belching of radial air-cooled engines. Moments later, the right engine fired up, and as Hinton revved both engines, the 60-year-old machine bounced and strained against its chocks.

In its hangar, Glacier Girl seemed a museum piece, almost quaint. Roaring out into the sunlight, however, it was a big, menacing, powerful machine, taking us back to Harry Smith’s belly landing on the ice, Richard Bong’s kills over the Pacific, Bud Holecheck’s strafing runs over Belgium—a time when good and evil were clearly defined and the whole nation was bent to a noble task.

Hinton taxied to the end of runway, turned around, and took off, leaping into the air. He banked left, circled, and swept low at 350 mph before heading to Dayton.

Holecheck blinked back tears, wiped his eyes, and uttered a single word: “Sweet.”

Despite the tens of thousands of people who have streamed through Glacier Girl’s hangar over the past decade, despite the television documentaries, news stories, and newspaper articles that followed the airplane’s fortunes, Bob Cardin was so focused on restoring the P-38 that he hardly noticed all the attention. At Dayton, that changed. Just as he had done in Middlesboro, he was up at dawn every day, pacing around Glacier Girl long before the gates opened. The Rolls-Royce trophy typically goes to the airplane whose restoration has best preserved authenticity, so Cardin laid out everything, including Glacier Girl’s seatbelt, tool kit, a can of Harry Smith’s tobacco, and his helmet—all found with the airplane deep in the glacier. He also plunked down 18 volumes of photographs documenting the restoration process. “This is the only World War II fighter flying today with its original engines and props and guns,” he said, ever arguing his case as if he was still not sure anyone would notice his airplane.

By 8:30 a.m. people started to stream by under a cloudless blue sky; by nine they were a hundred deep in front of the P-38, a crowd that never thinned in four days. “Is this the one they dug out of the glacier?” a man called out.

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