By JEFFREY GOLD
Associated Press Writer
TETERBORO, N.J. (AP) - A World War II fighter plane once entombed under hundreds of feet of snow and ice in Greenland is back on a mission it began nearly 65 years ago.
Dubbed "Glacier Girl" after being recovered, the P-38 left Teterboro Airport on Friday for another leg of a journey toward Duxford, England, where it's scheduled to land June 29.
Fighter pilot Brad McManus, the first member of his squadron to crash-land onto a glacier in Greenland, is now the only pilot still alive from the group to see one of their planes finally reach England - a flight he never expected any of the damaged aircraft to complete.
"I never would have thought that," McManus, 89, said Friday, shortly before Glacier Girl took off to resume the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
McManus, of Phoenixville, Pa., flew alongside for 100 miles as a passenger in a small civilian plane.
"It's a great day. It's a historic moment, really, in aviation history," McManus said.
His P-38 remains under hundreds of feet of ice and snow in Greenland, heavily damaged since its nose wheel collapsed when it plowed into snow upon landing. The impact flipped the twin-engine plane onto its back, leaving McManus bleeding from a cut arm in the cockpit.
He crawled out, and his comrades - who had watched the scene from above - made smoother "belly" landings by not deploying their landing gear, a maneuver McManus now says should have been obvious to him.
"I thought, how stupid can you get?" recalled McManus, a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Air Corps at the time and part of what became known as the Lost Squadron.
McManus returned to Europe in 1944, flying 85 missions, many in P-38s, a number of them to Berlin. He retired as a colonel.
The Lost Squadron was part of a daring plan - Operation Bolero - that eventually brought hundreds of U.S. fighter jets and bombers to England via Canada, Greenland and Iceland in the early months after America's entry into World War II.
The route was chosen because the planes could not carry enough fuel, and lacked the proper navigational and communications equipment to make the direct trans-Atlantic flight. It was also faster than continuing to have the planes disassembled and shipped to England in convoys that were targets of U-boat attacks.
But Glacier Girl, once among the fastest aircraft on the planetwith a top speed of more than 400 mph, did not make it. Foul weather forced it, along with five other fighters and two bombers, to ditch onto the glacier in Greenland on July 15, 1942.
When it crashed, Glacier Girl had just five minutes of fuel left, said Steve Hinton, 55, the pilot who will fly the aircraft to England. He will rely on original equipment, augmented by a global positioning system (and two GPS backups), as well as an escort from a restored P-51 Mustang fighter.
The crews of the Lost Squadron were rescued, but the planes were left behind. They sank into the river of ice as snow piled atop for decades. They were untouched until a Kentucky man, Roy Shoffner, led an expedition of 40 people in the spring of 1992. They burrowed through 268 feet of ice to reach one of the P-38s. In 50 years, the aircraft had traveled one mile from impact.
The plane, which has a 52-foot wingspan, was extracted, piece by piece, through a 4-foot wide tunnel. Shoffner, of Middlesboro, Ky., spent years restoring it, and it took flight again in October 2002.
Shoffner died in 2005. His family sold it in March 2007 to Lewis Aeronautical, a private company in San Antonio, Texas, with a collection of historic aircraft. The family said the sale was needed to realize Shoffner's dream that the plane would finish its mission, and to ensure its long-term preservation.
In a nod to Shoffner's efforts, Glacier Girl's first stop on its tour this month was Middlesboro, Ky., where it arrived June 18 from Chino, Calif.
It arrived Thursday at Teterboro Airport, about 15 miles northwest of New York City.
After leaving New Jersey, Glacier Girl is stopping in Presque Isle, Maine; Goose Bay and Frobisher Bay in Canada; Sondre Stromfjord and Kulsuk, Greenland; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Stornoway, Scotland; before reaching England.
On the Net:
Tracking the flight: http://www.AirShowBuzz.com
Lost Squadron Museum: http://www.thelostsquadron.com
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)