WWII Crash Landing: The Lost Squadron
Phoenix Hydraulic Services will be observing the 2-minute silence to respect those who gave their lives to protect the freedom of future generations. We will remember them.
Leading to the tragic loss of 46% of the crew members worldwide, according to statistics from the RAF, hundreds of aircraft were shot down during World War II. One of the conflict's biggest disasters was the disappearance of eight aircraft that were flying over Greenland in July 1942.
A squadron of military planes, including two B-17 bombers and six P-38 fighter planes, was flying from the United States to Britain when they hit a terrible storm. The crew members were among the hundreds of US airmen whose aircraft flew across the North Atlantic to England, on what became known as the perilous "Snowball Route".
The route comprised a chain of secret airbases across Greenland, Newfoundland and Iceland. The aircraft had to land in Greenland to refuel, before taking off again into the path of the snowstorms.
As part of Operation Bolero, the hazardous route was used by hundreds of US aircraft, delivering crews, equipment and supplies to help the Allies take back Nazi-occupied Europe.
Around 10% of the planes on the Snowball Route crashed due to the weather and the rescue efforts were equally hazardous, as the aircraft sent out to pick up the surviving crews often fell victim to the harsh weather too.
Seven decades after the horrors of the Second World War, a group of US airmen known as the Fallen American MIA Repatriation Foundation are aiming to find all of the missing planes and bring the crew members home to give them a heroes' burial.
The organisation has been using a heavy-lift drone aircraft, equipped with radar that can penetrate the ground, to try and locate the planes - which have become known collectively as the Lost Squadron.
The high-tech drone recently managed to locate a Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft hidden on Greenland's east coast, under several hundred feet of ice.
The search confirmed the buried plane was part of the famous Lost Squadron of six P-38s and two B-17s that had crash-landed in 1942. Luckily for these crew members, they had survived the crash landing, after their aircraft turned back because of the bad weather. They had been rescued and taken back to the US soon afterwards. As it was impossible to salvage at the time, the plane was abandoned.
The recent find of the P-38 was the second of its kind since the war. Another P-38, from the same squadron, had been recovered by a different organisation in 1992.
Nicknamed "Glacier Girl", the aircraft was eventually recovered from the ice 50 years on and amazingly restored to flyable condition! It had taken seven different expeditions many years to recover her.
Eventually, a 1992 expedition, led by Atlanta-based entrepreneurs Richard Taylor and Pat Epps, found and recovered the aircraft from a depth of 280ft. The P-38 was then cut into sections and lifted back to the surface. It was flown back to the US in pieces, repaired and reassembled.
After more than 70 years, the recent find (the second P-38) is buried deeper in a glacier, but the group hopes to melt as much of the ice as possible and dig it out of its icy grave.
The purpose of the mission is aimed at improving techniques to locate further aircraft wrecks in the region, including those carrying US airmen who are still officially missing in action. The plan is to take them home to America, so they can be given a proper burial and provide closure for their families.
Team leader Jim Salazar, a businessman from California, said the team had found the P-38 underneath more than 300ft of ice. The drone had been scanning the glacier after traces of the buried plane were first spotted in 2011.
The drone had located the plane within moments of setting off on its search. After melting through the ice using a thermal probe, this was retrieved covered in hydraulic oil from the plane. It would have taken six or seven hours for a ground crew to search the same area, using a radar-equipped sledge.
As they looked for the P-38, a similar storm to the one that had brought the Lost Squadron down blew up from nowhere and the team was trapped on the glacier for three days.
Greenland's "Bermuda Triangle"
The rediscovered plane was called "Echo" and was piloted by the US Army Air Corps' Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wilson, who returned safely to the US with the other airmen.
Other US servicemen whose aircraft crashed in the icy region were not as fortunate and it became known as the "Bermuda Triangle" of Greenland, because of the number of planes that disappeared there.
The latest expedition was part-funded by the non-profit group, Arctic Hot Point Solutions. Six searchers had gone on the mission, which had cost around $2.7 million. Salazar, who owns a machinery business in Pasadena, put up most of the funding.
The twin-tailed P-38 Lightning was a famous World War II aircraft. Today, only about ten have survived in museums around the globe and very few are still in working order. The hydraulic oil that remained in the system of the plane buried in Greenland would have operated its major parts, such as the brakes and landing gear.
Hydraulic power has been used on aircraft since the 1920s for this purpose. Then, in the early 1930s, hydraulic-powered wing-flaps were launched. By the time of the second world war, in the early 1940s, aviation hydraulics were developed further and were used to power the flight control surface as well.
It was a tribute to the strength and durability of the P-38 aircraft that it remained intact and still contained the hydraulic oil that enabled the search team to identify it as the missing aeroplane.
All over the world, people are preparing to remember those brave men and women who lost their lives during the Second World War and other conflicts. Services will be taking place on Remembrance Sunday, 10th November, to commemorate the bravery of not only the fighter pilots, but the other armed forces and civilians who made the ultimate sacrifice.