‘Maid of Harlech’

Charity hopes to lift World War II fighter plane from sea

A US historic preservation group is hoping to raise the  Lockheed P38 Lightning from its resting place off the Gwynedd coast where it has lain since 1942.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR)* are keeping the precise location of the plane, known as the Maid of Harlech, under wraps.
The United States Army Air Force plane’s discovery on Harlech beach in 2007 has been described as “one of the most important WWII finds in recent history”.
Its pilot Lt Robert Elliott crashed while on training exercises after its engines cut out.
But after surviving the incident with barely a scratch, he went missing in action just months later while serving with US forces in the Tunisia campaign.
…The previously hidden plane appeared on the North Wales beach three years ago.
The sand that had seen it go undetected for more than half a century, was lifted by local currents to unveil the plane.
But the sand that dispersed in 2007 has returned and left its location known only to TIGHAR.
The charity’s executive director Ric Gillespie* said the organisation was trying to persuade the Imperial War and  Royal Air Force Museums to help it fund the wreck’s recovery.
He said: “We’re trying to find a museum home for it in the UK and raise the money to recover and conserve the aircraft.
“We’ve had extensive discussion with the RAF Museum and the Imperial War Museum and they’re very familiar with the project.”
The Imperial War Museum were on site in 2007 when they analysed the wreck. This was designed to work out if the plane could be brought from the sea without destroying what remains.
Mr Gillespie* added: “One of the big problems with this aircraft is that it has been in a salt water environment for many years.
“Once aircraft are removed from a salt water environment they have to have very specific conservation measures or they just crumble to a white powder.”
TIGHAR* is working closely with Texas A&M University’s conservation laboratory on the methods to be used to preserve the wreck after its removal.
The charity is the only organisation of its kind in the world which focuses on recovering historically-important wrecks and donating them to museums for the public to enjoy.
One of the conservation techniques being considered for the Maid of Harlech involves taking the aircraft to pieces and submerging the parts in a special solution. Electrolysis then removes the salt and preserves the aluminium. The process can take up to a year.
But Mr Gillespie* said a full, gleaming restoration was not the aim of the project.
He said: “There’s a lot of discussion in the museum world about whether it’s appropriate to rebuild something into basically a replica of itself, so you have an attractive exhibit.
“Alternatively, you can save as much of the real thing as you can and accept the fact that it looks old because it’s been a long time.
“If someone found a chariot in a pharaoh’s tomb you wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, I’ll bet we could put some new wood on this and build a new harness and drive it around’.
“There are many examples of World War II aircraft that have been rebuilt to flying condition and that’s good because it shows people what the planes would have looked like. But it’s also important to save the real thing.”

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3 comments on “‘Maid of Harlech’

  1. vinedodger says:

    There is absolutely no way that TIGHAR is a charity which donates “recovered” aircraft wrecks to museums. TIGHAR has existed on other peoples money (OPM) for 20 years now and has not recovered one single aircraft and delivered it to any museum in the world. Far from being a charity, TIGHAR only takes, it does not give anything away. You are misleading your readers.

    Some five million US dollars has flowed into TIGHAR and out again since it was formed. Most has been spent on expeditions to Nikumaroro Island to “test” a wacky hypothesis that Earhart and Noonan’s Lockheed Electra landed there.

    TIGHAR is stated to be a non-profit organisation but in reality it is a business which supports Gillespie and his team on that very supply of OPM. That is all they are interested in. he is a glib speaker, period.

    You are misled.

  2. saesferd says:

    Thank you for your comment, vinedodger. I will leave it here, so that readers are aware that there may be another side to this story.It will be interesting to find out if TIGHAR persuade the Imperial War and Royal Air Force Museums to help it fund the wreck’s recovery and if the wreck is ever removed from the sea.

  3. p38fan says:

    I wish I had read this earlier. Vinedodger is so right on in his assessment of Ric Gillespie and his “group”.

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