Glacier Girl receives warm Star City welcome

Kathy McCarty, Special to The County
17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – Snow and ice might have been the home for nearly 50 years of an aircraft dubbed the ‘Glacier Girl,’ but a warm welcome was what the now-famous plane received upon arrival to the Northern Maine Regional Airport on Friday, June 22.
    The plane’s presence was part of a re-enactment of that fateful trip in July 1942 that resulted in the aircraft and her  pilot – and others like it – being forced down in Greenland due to poor weather conditions. The pilots were rescued days later but the planes were left behind and, eventually, were buried under snow and ice. There they remained until a decision in 1992 led to the excavation of one aircraft. Piece by piece, the plane was removed and transported to the United States. Damaged or missing parts were replaced, as the aircraft now known as the Glacier Girl was reconstructed – a task that took 10 years and $5 million.
Glacier Girl’s arrival in Presque Isle Friday represented one leg of her historic journey. The aircraft was scheduled to re-trace her steps, beginning in California, with England serving as her final destination.
For local veteran Harold Quass, who served at the Presque Isle Air Base during World War II, this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Quass, also a charter member of the Presque Isle Air Museum, joined hundreds of spectators at the airport Friday to view the plane’s arrival. But unlike others taking part in the historic event, Quass had a history of sorts with Glacier Girl.
“I was a military person at the base when the plane originally took off. I came to the Presque Isle Air Base in January of 1942. The plane took off from the base on July 4, 1942,” said Quass. “I’m quite proud that I’m still here. I’m 90 years old now; other than vision, I’m doing pretty good.”
Quass, who served at the base for three years, served as an engineer at the time the plane came through. Having contact with so many aircraft, Quass said at the time he didn’t pay particular attention to the plane.
“There were hundreds of planes. I knew about the situation but they (aircraft like Glacier Girl, a P-38) weren’t anything special at the time,” said Quass.
Standing at the airport, Quass said one thing stood out about the plane’s arrival.
“One thing that really impressed me was bringing back the sound of the airplane’s engines,” said Quass.
Eager to get a closer look, Quass said he was one of the first to greet the pilot.
“I was almost to the plane before the pilot was able to get out of it. I was probably among the first two dozen to shake his hand. We were able to talk later,” said the Presque Isle veteran.
A mechanic by trade, Quass began his mechanic’s career in the military. From there, he worked for 16 years at the Ford garage in Presque Isle. He finished up his career as a mechanic teaching automotives at Northern Maine Community College – back when it was called Northern Maine Vocational Technical Institute. He’s been retired for 21 years.
“No one has enjoyed their retirement more than I have and I’ll continue to enjoy it,” said Quass.
Quass said he also enjoyed seeing the two aircraft accompanying the Glacier Girl.
“There was a Mustang. A turbo prop plane accompanied them,” he said. “A group of mechanics came with them.”
The former mechanic came out in Quass, as he described the planes’ engines.
“The P-38 had two 600 Allison engines. The Mustang had a Rolls Royce engine, around 8000 horse power. The top speed of both aircraft at level flight is about 400 mph,” said Quass.
Quass was impressed with the diverse turnout on Friday.
“There were a lot of young students/kids there. I think everybody had a good time. I also noticed Eddie Griffin, a good friend of mine who’s confined to a wheelchair, was there. I was happy to see him with the electric wheelchair. He phoned me later and told me what a good time he had. It was pretty nice to see him there,” said Quass.
Airport Manager Scott Wardwell said he was impressed with the event and the number of people who came out to see the planes, especially veterans.
“People were parked down near the old International Paper building for the landing. They were spread all over the airport, waiting for the planes to land,” said Wardwell, noting touchdown occurred around 4:30 p.m. “We saw young and old alike – children to veterans/senior citizens.”
Although not a typical air show, Wardwell said the event was good for the airport and the community.
“This was great PR for us,” said Wardwell. “From my perspective, I just wanted to get people out. Given the level of the event, I felt people would want to be a part. In that respect, we were a success.”
According to Wardwell, people get excited by seeing things like Glacier Girl’s visit.
“This is an opportunity that’s hard to manufacture. A lot of work goes into events like these, often on short notice,” said Wardwell. “We make the best out of these (events). They come out of places you don’t expect. We didn’t know about this particular event until a couple weeks ago,” said Wardwell. “People can’t say we’re not doing anything any more.”
As a general rule, Wardwell said people were respectful and well-behaved, mingling with the pilots and getting photos taken. He said it was the airport’s goal to make the stop a pleasant one for the visitors.
“From arrival to departure, I was here. We catered to them – tried to meet whatever needs they had,” said Wardwell.
Unlike the plane’s emergency landing years ago that left it stranded in snow and ice, the aircraft was snug and sheltered from the elements during in the city’s new hangar during its brief stay. Originally scheduled to take off on Saturday, June 23, departure was delayed until Sunday, June 24, due to weather.
“Weather up in Goosebay, Labrador delayed departure. The group left Sunday, to continue their journey,” said Wardwell.
Anyone interested in tracking the Glacier Girl’s progress, according to Wardwell, can do so by visiting www.airshowbuzz.com.
“Deb Mitchell, director of marketing for airshowbuzz.com, posts information on the flight. One of the pilots also has a blog on there, keeping the public informed of their progress,” said Wardwell.
Wardwell said the event wasn’t designed to drum up publicity for the airport but was done more to honor those who’ve served the United States.
“We tried not to commercialize the flight. We dedicated it (the event) to the veterans who’ve served our country,” said Wardwell.
And Quass was one of those veterans that did enjoy seeing Glacier Girl and talking shop with her crew.
“I had an excellent weekend. I went up again on Sunday afternoon when they left,” said Quass. “It’s a memory that will never leave me.”