It all started when somebody made fun of mountain folk. Some city guy landed at London, Ky., and mistook the local mindset for substandard mental ability. The people are more relaxed than Chicago kids, but that shouldn't be taken in the wrong way. On the Mooney mail list, though, a lot of jokes followed; until Ron Dubin decided to set the record straight. Ron lives in East Kentucky hill country for exactly those aspects of quiet country life that are often mistaken for backwardness. Quite the contrary, the lifestyle is exactly what a lot of high-voltage city folks long for, and it's a great place to bring up a family.
Ron took the ribbing for a while, before he had to post his own summary to the list: this isn't a place to mock, it's a place to envy. Besides, we have the Glacier Girl.
The Glacier Girl is a P-38 from the Lost Squadron that was recovered after 50 years of being submerged under Greenland's ice cap. After a painstaking ten-year restoration, she flew last fall, for the first time since 1942.
Cut to a Southeastern institution, the Fourth Saturday Drop-in Lunch at Rome, Georgia. Larry Ford has been coordinating these gatherings for a couple of years now. Well, Ron stirred up enough interest that the outcome was predictable: the March 2003 Fourth Saturday you-know-what would move temporarily to Middlesboro, Kentucky. This is the Glacier Girl's home, within sight of Daniel Boone's Cumberland Gap.
On the appointed day, the weather was perfect. Mooneys began arriving. They
kept coming, and coming, and ... until 39 Mooney-loads had dropped in for
lunch with the Glacier Girl.
Ramp space went fast. Some of us were banished to quasi-Siberia behind two
We even had a big ED wannabe.
We enjoyed watching all those Mooneys land and taxi in.
There were one or two obvious misfits.
Before lunch, a crowd gathered to listen to several notable speakers.
As traditional M.C., Larry Ford had a few words to say.
Ron Dubin welcomed us. We appreciated all the work he
had done to make that welcome so well felt.
In July 1942, a squadron of two B-17s and six P-38s flew into unforecast
weather on their way to fight in Europe. They couldn't get to their
destination, so they turned around to return. When they learned that their
departure point was now socked in, they decided to land on Greenland's ice
cap. Several days later, they were led out by rescuers with dogsleds and
small boats. A diorama in the Lost Squadron Museum at Middlesboro depicts
the men's march across the ice.
You don't drill through 268 feet of ice. The team used a sort of plumb bob
called a Gopher, four feet in diameter. The business end of it is sheathed in
copper tube. The men ran hot water through that tubing and the Gopher melted
its way down, a little bit at a time. When they reached the airplane, the
team blasted out a workspace with more hot water from a fire hose.
Glacier Girl's hangar is also the home of the Lost Squadron Museum. There
are numerous artifacts there, including the IFF (transponder) that the crew
destroyed to prevent an enemy from using it.
Bob Cardin was part of the recovery team that raised Glacier Girl in 1992 and
spent the next ten years restoring her to the beautiful piece of work we saw
at Middlesboro. He spoke for half an hour about those efforts, being sure to
impress us with the amount of original material that remains in the restored
aircraft: "We even replaced the original air in the tires."
Roy Shoffner funded the expedition to recover Glacier Girl, and the ten-year
restoration that followed. He also had a few words for us, and welcomed the
Mooney pilots to Middlesboro. His attention to detail includes the license
on his car.
Here's the star of the show.
It's almost impossible to imagine the restoration team's attention to detail.
This airplane is not just better than new, it's immaculate.
The P-38's drop tank pods are designed so they could also hold 1000-pound
Glacier Girl flew in October 2002, for the first time in sixty years. After
the flight, an inspection revealed that the left engine was making metal.
The cause was a bad bearing that also ruined the crankshaft.
After lunch (thank you, J. Melton!) we wandered around the museum, and toured
the ramp to look at all the other Mooneys. A small group gathered to check
out Phil Guziec's new turbocharger, but not everyone was impressed.
Finally, it was time to leave. For those of us who arrived from the East,
the groundspeeds going home were gratifying.
Although we departed Kentucky under a beautiful clear sky,
about half of our trip back to Connecticut was on top of the weather.