Sixty-six years of separation evaporated when Ben Ryan climbed the ladder of the P-38, Glacier Girl, at Oshkosh 2012 — it was 1946 when Ben last flew a P-38 in the final days of World War II. In fact, on Columbus Day in 1945, Ben was overrun by his wingman, a fellow aviator in another P-38 in trail. The damage done by that friendly midair bump chewed the tail off Ben’s aircraft, forcing him to bail out over the waters of the Panama Canal Zone. When asked at Oshkosh about the difficulty of bailing out of a P-38 due to the twin tail configuration, Ben had two comments: 1) Glad nobody told me that before I bailed out; and 2) Maybe it was because my wingman had already chewed the tail off that not only created the need to jump, but also created the lack of something to run into when bailing out.
Sixty-six years to the date after his initial flight training at General Mitchell Field, just 90 miles away, Ben Ryan once again got into the cockpit. It was a day he had dreamed about for a good long time and the ability to once again get into the cockpit of the plane that he so dearly loved came about as a result of the generosity of some fine folks. The trip had been organized by the Recreational Aviation Foundation in order to say “thank you” for the contribution of the Ryan’s home, property and airstrip in northwest Montana to the RAF. Mr. and Mrs. Ryan are particularly proud of their service to their county and the ability to get back in a P-38 was something that was significant to all concerned.
Upon arrival at Oshkosh, it was Bob Cardin, one of the folks behind the recovery and restoration of the Glacier Girl, who made Ben’s return to the cockpit possible. Following the reunion, Bob commented that he was once again reminded that gentlemen like Ben were the real owners of this aircraft and he merely has the pleasure of being its present-day caretaker. Watching this nearly 90-year-old gentleman scamper up the ladder to the top of the wing, slide open the canopy and step into the cockpit as if the last time had been only yesterday, made time stand still. As he sat down in the cockpit, one could see the flood of memories that filled his face. For those of us that witnessed the event, there was barely a dry eye on the tarmac.
That moment in time could not have been possible without the generous support of Signature Flight Support and Glacier Jet Center of Kalispell, Montana. Both recognized the significance of the event and contributed to making the trip happen. We thank them for that.
To the Ryans, thank you on behalf of the Recreational Aviation Foundation as well as all those that appreciate and cherish the ability to fly.
Submitted August 6, 2012.