Last updated: 10/29/2019
Bell County Airport
Middlesboro, KY 40965
|Monday - Saturday||7 AM - 5 PM|
|Sunday||8 AM - 12 PM|
A flight of eight brand-new P-38 fighter-bombers headed out for England, by way of Maine, Greenland and Iceland, to Scotland, in early July of 1942. They were turned back twice by bad weather, and eventually two of the planes had to be left behind because of mechanical problems, but the remaining six planes finally headed out on the leg from Greenland to Iceland on Sunday, July 12.
Once again, bad weather turned them back, but this time, the inexperienced navigator in the lead plane, a B-17, had made a mistake plotting the route, and they missed their base in Greenland by several hundred miles. Lost in heavy clouds and running out of fuel, the decision was made to crash land the planes on the ice cap, and wait for rescue. At least one of the planes flipped over on its top when the nose wheel dug into the ice, but most of the planes landed with their gear up, and suffered very little damage, due to the P-38’s heavily-armored steel underbelly.
No one was badly injured, and the crews were rescued 11 days later, but with much more pressing priorities due to the war, the squadron of planes was left behind. After the war was over, several attempts were made to locate and rescue the planes, without any success. In fact, from 1977 to 1989, no less than 11 attempts were made, without much success other than to locate where the planes were, and to bore a small hole down through 50 feet of ice to verify their existence.
Then, in May of 1992, the Schoffner Expedition arrived with the “Super Gopher III,” a unique, four-foot wide hot water boring tool, and bored a hole down through 268 feet of ice, at the rate of four feet per hour, to one of the P-38s. Using hot water as a blasting tool, an ice cavern was hollowed out around the plane, and work was begun dis-assembling her and hauling the parts up through the shaft. It took three months, and the damage was considerably more extensive than they had thought it would be.
Hundreds of companies and thousands of people became involved in the restoration of the rescued P-38, now dubbed “Glacier Girl.” Despite the massive effort, it would take nearly 11 years to complete the project. On October 26, 2002, in front of a crowd of tens of thousands who came to watch history being made, Glacier Girl lifted of from Middlesboro Airport, and took to the sky once again, for the first time in over 60 years.
Our exhibit is small, but free, and fascinating. We have an exhibit of some artifacts and documents about this story. Just stop by the Bell County Airport during office hours.
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