Monday, August 06, 2018

WWII Aircraft Missing Since 1942 Found Under Ice in Greenland

History buffs will certainly appreciate this story. A team or researchers have located three American aircraft buried deep beneath the ice in Greenland that have been missing since July of 1942. The three planes ––which include a P-38 Lightning fighter and two B-17 bombers–– were forced to make an emergency landing on the glaciers while flying a support mission for Allied forces in the U.S.'s early days of the war. The crew of the airplanes spent nine days out on the ice before being rescued, but the planes themselves were never recovered.

Locating the missing aircraft wasn't easy. In the decades since they were abandoned they were covered in ice and snow and now sit some 300 feet (91 meters) beneath the surface. A team of dedicated researchers used ground-penetrating radar to locate the vehicles however, which have remained untouched for more than 75 years. The radar devices were mounted on drones, which were then used to comb the area at a fast, more efficient rate. 

The first of the aircraft to be located and identified was the P-38 "Echo," which was flown by Robert Wilson on July 15, 1942. To properly identify the fighter plane, the team had to use a special probe designed to cut through the ice. It extended down through the glacier and was actually able to reach the P-38 itself. Much to the surprise of the recovery team, the aircraft was still covered in a thick hydraulic fluid from its engine. 

Next summer, the team plans to return to the site of the downed aircraft and launch its recovery efforts in earnest. They'll use large heat plates to create a tunnel in the ice that will grant them access to the "Echo." From there, they'll slowly disassemble the plane and ship it home piece by piece as a historical reclamation project. Presumably, the B-17s will receive the same treatment at some point too. 

This story is another example of how modern technology is helping us discover ––or rediscover–– the things we've lost. A few years ago, a recovery effort like this would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Now, we mount radar devices on drones and fly them over search areas. Who knows what other things this will reveal in the future, but it is certainly exciting to watch these things unfold. 

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