Home  |  What's New  |  Features  |  Gallery  |  Reviews  |  Reference  |  Forum  |  Search

Glacier Girl
Inaugural Flight of a Restored P-38F

By Michael H. Horrell

Lockheed P-38F Lightning "Glacier Girl"


HyperScale is proudly supported by Squadron




On October 26, 2002 an early model P-38 took to the air for the first time in generations.

Rescued from under almost 300 feet of Greenland icecap, the P-38F (now named “Glacier Girl”) was the subject of a 10-year restoration project by a small, but highly expert, team of full time specialists at a cost estimated to be in the range of $6 million USD.

The full story of the recovery has been covered in “The Lost Squadron” by David Hayes as well as on the team’s website http://thelostsquadron.com/ and is a truly amazing feat.

My wife and I drove over 400 miles from our home in the Washington, DC suburbs to Middlesboro in the famous Cumberland Gap area of Kentucky to see this historic event. We had assumed that a number of military and old airplane nuts (excuse me, “enthusiasts”) would be there, but we were shocked to find that this had become a huge event with people from all over North America expected to attend and all hotel rooms taken for over 100 miles in any direction.

The Kentucky State Police’s official estimate of the crowd was that a minimum of 25,000 people lined the ramps and border fencing of the small, 3,500-foot airport. Whole families comprising three or even four generations were pressing against the temporary snow fencing. Some were veterans, some were pilots themselves, one boy about 10 was there to cover it as a project for his grade school’s paper, in Wisconsin, hundreds of miles away….

The weather was extremely marginal and the 500 foot ceiling well below the minimum limits that had been set for the flight. Middlesboro sits in the middle of a gap in the Appalachian Mountains and the East end of the field is ringed by steep hills that disappeared into the low, overcast. Almost two hours beyond the scheduled 2:00 take-off, this low cloud finally lifted to about 1,500 feet and the flight was on.


Pilot Steve Hinton took off smoothly with the aircraft accelerating rapidly and breaking ground approximately 1400-1500 feet after starting the take off roll. He almost immediately began gear retraction and was probably at about 800 feet crossing the boundary fence. The P-38 airfoil is a surprisingly thick and high lift profile and the plane climbs in a very flat attitude compared to most military aircraft.


Steve was immediately joined on the downwind leg by an SNJ chase plane and they circled the field together several times as Steve went through his pre-planned checklist.

Once he was satisfied with the aircraft’s operating condition, the SNJ peeled off and a Piper Seneca photo plane joined up for several more circuits to film the flight for an upcoming History Channel special. This should be well worth watching as the formation was extremely tight and the Piper flew in a number of positions relative to the P-38.

Steve made a couple low passes to the joy of the crowd and then greased the plane on in a picture perfect landing letting it roll to a stop at the far end of the field where the crowd cheered loudly enough to be heard mid-field where we were stationed.


Glacier Girl was experiencing some potential oiling difficulties with the port engine, which is the reason that the cowling was off. After a second flight the next day, metal from a disintegrating main bearing was found in the engine screens and she was grounded pending an engine rebuild. The rebuild should be nearing completion at this time and hopefully we’ll see her back in the air this Spring.

Notes for Modelers

The extremely poor lighting conditions have badly affected the in-flight shots. I had to take my best guess as to exposures and what you see is what you get under these conditions. I wish they were better…

No color or other adjustments have been made to these photos beyond the necessary cropping for content. The greenish cast of the OD is ACCURATE and not a result of exposure or printing. On my PC the color is a very close match to the Mk I Eyeball’s results. The gray undersurface is also a fairly dark color.

I assume that a high degree of effort was put into accurately matching the paint pattern and demarcation lines. As can be seen, it is a tight pattern with softly blended edges. Since the recovered aircraft was virtually brand new and unlikely to have been touched up, this should be about as close to “gospel” as we are ever likely to get.

The aircraft's stance. This is how a P-38 is SUPPOSED to sit, not with its tail almost on the ground. With full tanks, it would squat a bit more but not to an excessive degree. I knew Ben Kelsey, the original P-38 Project Officer and he stated repeatedly that this exaggerated stance was largely the result of over-inflation of the nose strut. I think he was in a position to know what he was talking about….

The upswept wingtips. They are almost concave in appearance and are surprisingly similar to the “hollow” tips of modern racing aircraft. Kelly Johnson did not miss a trick even back then.

The interior structure. This is bare, unpainted metal. If any form of anti-corrosion coating has been applied, it is not visible to me. FWIW, I saw no YZC anywhere and I am sure that the utmost care was take to accurately reflect the original state of the aircraft.

The rear section of the canopy is reinforced by internal Plexiglas strips that are bonded directly to the clear section.

All panel joints are extremely tight and that is the way these planes were built. The airframe is extremely flexible (I could see it bobbing and weaving AT LEAST A FOOT at the end of the booms during full power run-ups) and no doubt that ha an affect on panel fit and wrinkles. But as delivered, these were extremely smooth aircraft.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did taking them.

Mike Horrell


Glacier Girl Gallery


Click the thumbnails below to view larger images:

Images and Text Copyright © 2003 by Michael H. Horrell
Page Created 17 February, 2003
Last Updated 19 April, 2004

Back to HyperScale Main Page

Back to Reference Library