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The Lost Squadron

AETN proudly presents a documentary that profiles the restoration of a World War II P-38 For 50 years, a squadron of six P-38s lay buried in the glacial ice of Greenland - time capsules left behind from World War II.

Now, one of the P-38s has been recovered from its frozen tomb - piece by piece - and the hope is that it will fly again.

"The Lost Squadron," a 30-minute documentary produced by the Arkansas PBS, follows the rescue of "Glacier Girl" from the ice of Greenland to its new home in Middlesboro, Ky., where it is being meticulously restored to its former glory.

"The Lost Squadron" incorporates interviews with the former pilots who survived the World War II mission, vintage P-38 fighter plane video, dramatic home video taken at the glacier recovery site and still photos of the pilots at the crash site in 1942.

The AETN documentary, in dramatic detail, tells the story of how on July 15, 1942, the P-38 and the rest of the squadron were en route to Great Britain when thick clouds forced them to turn back. Running out of fuel, they made emergency landings on a glacier in Greenland. Pilot Brad McManus in the documentary tells how he landed first with his plane's wheels down, but flipped his plane. McManus wasn't hurt, but the rest of the pilots decided to belly land their planes.

The last P-38 to touch down - now known as "Glacier Girl" - was flown in by the late Lt. Harry Smith. In David Hayes' book, The Lost Squadron, Smith recalls that he "feathered" his plane in without power to keep from damaging it.

"Hold 'er off with the props, just turning til she stalls ... bump ... snow flies, the old crate slides along and that's all! Another landing! Didn't even bend the props," Smith said.

The documentary recounts how the crew radioed an SOS for three days before their signal was picked up by an American weather station. Ten days after their emergency landing they were greeted by a rescue team on dog sled. They walked the 17 miles to a Coast Guard cutter on the Greenland shore.

The still photos, which also add a sense of "being there" to the documentary, were taken with an old Kodak camera given to pilot Brad McManus before he left on the mission. His father, when giving him the camera, said that he might run into something interesting. "Fortunately, it took about 60 to 80 pictures on the ice after we landed," McManus said.

The Army Air Force never went back for the planes from the Lost Squadron, but treasure hunters and World War II enthusiasts have been intrigued with the possibilities of recovering them. In 1992, Shoffner, a Kentucky businessman and former Air Force fighter pilot, decided to act on his dream to recover a P-38. The program is full of actual footage shot at the start of this adventure.

Camped out in tents on the Greenland ice cap, Shoffner, Cardin, and a team of explorers melted a 268-foot tunnel straight down to the plane. Hot water hoses were used to melt an ice cave that revealed a surprisingly intact P-38. Then - piece by piece - the plane was taken apart and hauled up the hole to the top. It took four months to recover all the parts.

Today, Shoffner's hangar in Middlesboro, Ky., is a living, working museum where those parts are being painstakingly put together. Veterans and plane lovers come from around the world to revel in the P-38's restoration and remember its glory days. Soon, Shoffner hopes to have the plane completed and to fly it to Europe, following the route originally charted for The Lost Squadron.

"Of all the planes in World War II, the one with the greatest following is the P-38. I can't explain why, except the guys that flew it loved the plane," McManus says in the documentary.

Producer Larry Foley decided to create "The Lost Squadron" after visiting the "Glacier Girl" at its hanger in Middlesboro. He brought in Emmy-award winner Dale Carpenter ("Edge of Conflict: Arkansas in the Civil War") to videotape and edit the documentary. Foley and Carpenter are both independent producers and professors of journalism at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

"I walked in the door of this hangar, and I saw this World War II fighter plane. Then I looked to the left and saw all of those pictures of how they recovered the plane, and I thought, 'I can't believe these guys did this! I've never seen anything like this in my life!'" Foley said of his initial reaction on visiting the hanger.

Foley said he immediately found project manager Bob Cardin and asked if anyone had shot any videotape of the recovery. Cardin said about 18 hours of video were recorded and that he and project financier Roy Shoffner were looking for someone to produce a documentary about it.

"Within five minutes of me walking in the door, we were planning the documentary," Foley said.

Last Updated 28 Feb 2020