Endangered species can sometimes be seen in the sky over Middlesboro.
Not the feathered kind. These World War II vintage aircraft come equipped with twin 1,225-horsepower engines.
Middlesboro hosts a restored P-38, affectionately known as Glacier Girl. Glacier Girl and her sibling P-38 named Porky II roared over the airport during a September air show, making low passes that gave visitors a sense of the air power that earned the plane the nickname “Lightning.”
Glacier Girl has become an attraction drawing regular visitors ranging from World War II veterans and aviation buffs to students who can get a personal look at history in a hangar.
“I like to say it’s the newest and the oldest P-38,” says Roy Shoffner, a Middlesboro businessman who led the drive to recover Glacier Girl from the icecaps of Greenland. At the September show he signed photos of the plane for those who came to see Glacier Girl perform the miracle of flight.
It took millions of dollars and a decade of restoration for the engines to roar back to life and the plane to lift off the runway for the first time in October 2002.
The plane was part of the Lost Squadron, a group of P-38s forced to land in Greenland after encountering bad weather on a flight to England in 1942. The pilots were rescued, but the planes were left behind and slowly sank underneath the snow and ice. Shoffner helped finance an expedition to retrieve one of the planes from beneath more than 25 stories of snow and ice.
National Geographic documented Glacier Girl’s rescue, 50 years after the crash landing. The tedious recovery included melting the ice around the plane and bringing it back to the surface in pieces. You can watch a film about the rescue in the hangar that houses the project at the Middlesboro Airport.
After rescuing the plane, Shoffner turned the restoration project over to Bob Cardin, who served as crew chief. For more than 10 years he has served as the guardian of the plane as it underwent a transformation from an ice-scarred wreckage to an airworthy piece of aviation history. The plane was stripped to the bare frame and many of the parts had to be remanufactured.
“People used to ask me why I did this thing,” Shoffner says. “I thought it was just the challenge, the excitement of retrieving the plane. Now I know I did it for the veterans, those who lay in foxholes and heard the engines on those planes, and felt like everything would be OK.”
More than 20,000 visitors watched the first flight. TV’s The History Channel documented the flight by pilot Steve Hinton.
Glacier Girl’s restoration has not gone unnoticed in the world of aviation. In July, the plane won the prestigious Rolls Royce Heritage trophy at the Dayton International Air Show. The award honors the restoration of vintage aircraft to their original flying condition and aviation preservation efforts. The plane also won the Eastern Region’s People’s Choice Award at Dayton.
Shoffner had talked about one day completing the mission to England that was cut short by the Greenland weather more than 60 years ago. But in September he said he would concentrate on preserving the work that took 10 years to complete. A new home for the plane is being built at the Middlesboro Airport, and on special occasions, visitors will be able to see her take to the sky. On other days, just stop by the hangar–Glacier Girl will be home resting for her next flight.
VISITING GLACIER GIRL
You can see Glacier Girl in the Lost Squadron Museum at the Middlesboro Airport, Exit 8 off Highway 25E at Cumberland Gap. The museum is open seven days a week, 8-5. Contact (606) 248-1149, or www.thelostsquadron.com.