hroughout World War II, many airplanes disappeared without a sign, most laying at the bottom of the ocean whilst some were literally frozen in time. US engineering has shown itself once again as this amazing P-38 Lightning survived its own ice age. This plane had been lost with six others during a mission in 1942.
The US army was sending some B-17 bombers to support the attack on Germany which was supposed to reach the UK by following the ‘Snowball’ route. The bombers were escorted by six P-38 US air force fighters which were more than sufficient because the route was used quite often by allies so they were rarely attacked. Hundreds of US air force planes flew this route as part of Operation Bolero in which the Americans were offering air support in the war against Germany.
Reports from the B-17 pilots state that when approaching Greenland the winds were very powerful and the weather actually might have affected the hydraulics of the fighters. In 2011 a research team was sent to Greenland to look for the fighters, and with the help of technology, they were able to find one of the six lost P-38s.
Using a thermal probe and a smart drone, the search team detected one of the six lost P-38s and their mission became to dig it out. During the excavation process, the search team was surprised to see the plane in such good shape taking into consideration its possible hard crash.
This had made them conclude that there was a possibility for the pilot to have either ejected from the plane or have even survived the crash but, in such environmental conditions there was a low chance for the pilot to actually survive for a long time. What is more interesting is that during the snowstorm one pilot from a B-17 took a photo of a crashed P-38 that looks to have had a soft landing on the snow.
Some of the researchers have speculated that the photo could be of the actual ‘Glacier Girl’, the first and only P-38 Lightning found from this lost squadron. At the same time, this would explain its good condition as well as the two meters of ice and snow that have accumulated on top to be preserved for over 70 years.
Researchers are still trying to find other records or reports from the B-17 crew that took the picture in 1942 during their mission. Sadly most of the records seem to have been lost with time and all the potential witnesses such as other bombers’ crew members or even surviving pilots are dead.
Restoring the “Glacier Girl”
After they had managed to dig out the aircraft the research team took it back home and decided to actually restore it to full function. To be fair, apart from the body of the plane itself there was not much work to be done apart from the hydraulics as well as reinforcing the back wing.
The two Allison V-1710 engines were functional after changing a few parts. So were the four 12.7mm machine guns and single 20mm cannons located in the nose of the aircraft. Some upgrades were made to the electrical system and an improved gyroscope.
As you can witness in the image above the restoration came out flawlessly and if you take a closer look you can even see the nickname ‘Glacier Girl’ painted on the plane. The P-38 Lightning was a true innovation of the US air force planes as it was the first plane in 1941 to reach over 400 mph.
The search team had planned another search for the rest of the squadron in the summer of 2020 but due to the pandemic, it had to be delayed for the summer of this year. Hopefully, they will find the rest as well as a clue to what happened to the pilots.