Gary Parsons looks at the Boys' own story behind this year's Flying Legends, held over 7-8 July. Pictures by the author, Jack Parsons, Mike Kerr and Bob Franklin
Goose Bay, Canada, 29 June 2007 - Due to mechanical issues, pilots Steven Hinton and Ed Shipley decide to curtail legendary P-38 Lightning 'Glacier Girl's transatlantic mission to Duxford in a bid to complete the aircraft's original mission of 1942.
Planning for the movement and basing of US forces in the UK was begun at the end of April 1942 and given the code name of 'Bolero' - 'Glacier Girl's original journey was one of the early Operation Bolero flights, the plan being to fly the aircraft (B-17s, C-47s, and P-38s) over the North Atlantic. General Frank O'Driscoll Hunter was given the assignment to expedite and deliver five fighter groups (each consisting of approximately eighty-five aircraft). On 1 June the first aircraft reached the UK - there were some minor engine failure problems but none of the P-38s were lost, proof that the two-engine design was safe.
On 15 July a flight of six P-38s and a single B-17 took off, but soon the weather turned bad. A navigational error by the B-17 caused the aircraft to stray off course and after eight hours the flight tried to return to the original airstrip. The P-38s began to run out of fuel and the section leader, Lt McManus, decided to land on the ice while they still had power. He tried to land with his gear lowered but the ground was ridden with crevices, resulting in the P-38 flipping over, with only minor injuries to McManus. The rest of the P-38s then bellied in, wheels up, without any problems while the B-17 circled overhead sending signals allowing the destination field to get their positions. All pilots were rescued on 17 July with no serious injuries reported. The aircraft were left abandoned on the ice for the next fifty years, moving beneath the surface as the ice field thawed and froze over the years. 'Glacier Girl' was one of these aircraft.
Rescued from the ice in 1992 substantially crushed, P-38F 41-7630 was restored over the next ten years or so, finally breathing life again in 2001 when she moved under her own power again during taxi trials. First flight was in October the following year, and owner Roy Schoffner's vision of 'Glacier Girl' finally completing her Bolero journey was nearing completion. However, his greatest wish was not fulfilled - it was his dream to fly the P-38 himself to complete the original mission, flying the route to Europe. Roy passed away in early 2006 - son Jerry said, "He didn't dwell on it too much. He didn't think it was going to be a ten-year process of putting it back together. Time just got away from him."
Others though, shared Roy's dream. 'Glacier Girl', flown by Steve Hinton, joined by Ed Shipley in The Fighter Collection's recently acquired P-51D 'Miss Velma', departed from Jet Aviation at Teterboro Airport on 22 June 2007 on Operation Bolero II, the destination Flying Legends airshow at Duxford in early July. They flew to Presque Isle, Maine and then to Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay in Newfoundland and Labrador. On Thursday 28 June, thirty miles out of Goose Bay, Hinton began experiencing engine problems, so both planes returned to base. "The right engine 'popped-off'," said Hinton, "a term we use when the coolant overflow valve starts spitting coolant out, but it wasn't running hot - it was twenty-five degrees below the red-line."
"Normally you'd think it was a bad relief valve, but we tested it and it was fine, and our experience with Allison engines is that occasionally they crack a cylinder liner - the engine will run fine but the coolant will leak out. We're going to have to replace the engine - Goose Bay isn't the best place for testing aeroplanes, so we're not continuing to Duxford. It's kinda heartbreaking, but there's always next year. We knew from the onset there were risks involved with this mission - 'Glacier Girl' has never been over Atlantic waters since she went down in Greenland in '42, so it is a disappointment, but this is just the beginning. We hope to have her in tip-top flying condition for EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh at the end of July, and then we'll revisit this mission so that we can once and for all fly her across the pond."
Shipley continued forward in the P-51, arriving at Duxford in plenty of time Flying Legends. "Even though we've had a setback with Glacier Girl, nothing is ever etched in stone when it comes to flying these vintage planes, and we've honoured the mission's spirit of adventure by landing the P-51 safely in England."
Built too late to see combat in the Second World War, P-51D Mustang 44-84847 'Miss Velma'was one of the last Mustangs constructed at North American Aviation's Dallas plant. Details of the aircraft's post-war service remain sketchy at best, although there is photographic evidence of it serving with the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (TRS) at Kimpo, in South Korea, in September 1951 during the Korean War. Then designated an F-51D, 44-84847 served as a non-camera-equipped fighter alongside dedicated RF-51D reconnaissance aircraft, the latter usually converted into photo-platforms locally in Japan prior to being sent into action.
By late 1951, the 45th TRS was struggling to keep its war-weary Mustangs airworthy so these were subsequently replaced by jet-powered RF-80 'Shooting Stars' early the following year. 44-84847 survived the conflict to be returned to the USA and presumably issued to an Air National Guard unit. The latter retired its last F-51s in 1956, after which 44-84847 'vanished off the radar' until it appeared in the hands of Bob Odegaard of Kindred, North Dakota, as a restoration project in January 1999.
The airframe was sold to James Matoney of Fargo, North Dakota, early the following year, and was then acquired by The Fighter Collection (TFC) shortly afterwards. The Mustang was transferred to Fighter Rebuilders of Chino and the decision made to modify the aircraft into two-seat TF-51D configuration. Unusually, the fighter retains the standard P-51D tailfin rather than the taller Cavalier tail associated with the two-seat executive Mustang conversions of the 1960s. The aircraft does, however, have the big two-seat canopy fitted, and, of course, full flying controls in both cockpits.
44-84847 completed its post-restoration flight on 28 May 2007 with Fighter Rebuilders' Steve Hinton at the controls, after which preparations were made to repaint the aeroplane as Captain Frank Birtciel's P-51D 'Miss Velma' of the 55th Fighter Group. Frank gave the restoration his seal of approval when he and his wife visited Chino in mid-June to inspect the TF-51. As part of the visit, John Hinton also took the veteran pilot aloft in the Mustang. Shortly after the Mustang commenced its post-restoration flight test programme, the aircraft was fitted with external wing tanks in preparation for its participation in the audacious Operation Bolero II transatlantic crossing.
TFC's P-51D was not the only 'new' warbird on show at this year's Flying Legends - a lucky survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the world's oldest airworthy P-40B also made its UK debut, albeit in the static line only. A brand new arrival at Duxford, The Fighter Collection's P-40B-CU 41-13297 is the only airworthy example of an early Warhawk outside the USA - restoration has taken many years of hard work and serious expenditure, but the end result is a stunning example of warbird restoration of the highest order. This very aircraft was based in Hawaii during the infamous Japanese carrier-borne air strike on Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941.
This ambitious rebuild project first appeared on the restoration 'radar' in January 2006 when The Fighter Collection announced a reshuffle of airworthy aircraft and restoration projects. Easily the most exciting news release at the time was that a Pearl Harbour veteran P-40B was being restored to fly. The machine was placed on the UK civil register as G-CDWH later that month, its identity being confirmed as former US Army Air Corps P40B-CU 41-13297. This aircraft was one of just 131 B-model fighters built by Curtiss at its Buffalo, New York, plant in 1940-41, 41-13297 being delivered in March 1941.
In June 1941 41-13297 was based at Wheeler Field, serving with the 18th Pursuit Group's 6th Pursuit Squadron. In October 1941, the aircraft suffered a wheels-up landing that probably saved it from destruction during the attack of 7 December - the theory is that it was tucked away in a maintenance hangar when the Japanese aircraft made their attacks, thus sparing the fighter from most of the carnage.
Now restored, this aircraft is the only complete P-40B in existence. A handful of B and C-model Warhawks survived the war, but all as hulks, and it looked as though a flyable example would remain just a pipedream. Only put together a few days before the airshow, there was insufficient time to get a Certificate of Airworthiness to enable it to take part in the flying display. A test flight on Saturday evening enabled a few hardened spectators to grab it airborne, but hopefully September's airshow will offer a proper opportunity to see it in all its glory.
Flying Legends was once again the cream of the warbird calendar, a thrilling spectacle of tailchases and fine flying. A shame then, that TFC has decided to hold the 2008 event the same weekend as the Royal International Air Tattoo - a decision that will deny many enthusiasts the opportunity to savour both events, perhaps the two most 'special' of the year.
In a calendar now congested into July, with few quality events in May and June, it seems quite incredulous that with airshow organisation getting more difficult year-on-year organisers would want to put themselves in this situation. At the end of the day, both they and enthusiasts will suffer disappointment, especially if 'Glacier Girl' successfully completes Operation Bolero III.