Drones are now assisting in discovering mysteries of the past. Recently a GPR equipped autonomous drone helped locate remnants of the P-38 “ECHO “dog fighter air craft of the lost squadron from the lost squadron of WWII.
What came to be known as the Snowball Route during World War II was one on which allied planes would fly. US aircraft hopped across a chain of secret bases in Newfoundland, Greenland, and Iceland to arrive in the United Kingdom as support for Allied forces to push back against a Nazi invasion. However, a group of eight planes was lost in Greenland due to a fierce snowstorm, crash landing on a glacier and getting buried under thick ice.
Jim Salazar, a California businessman became curious and helped form a search team to find out what became known as the Lost Squadron. He and a colleague, Ken McBride, founded a non-profit team called Arctic Hot Point solutions. The goal was to locate the missing planes under the banner of the Fallen American MIA Repatriation Foundation and develop new techniques that could help locate other wrecks, where the pilots’ bodies had never been recovered.
Initially the team pulled ground penetrating radar on sleds, that can look below the surface of the icy glacier and identify large metal objects, but it was slow, treacherous work watching out for crevasses that could swallow up people and equipment and the threat of hungry polar bears looming large.
The team achieved a breakthrough with a new approach involving the use of a modified DJI M600 drone to carry the radar. Not only did the drone cover as much territory in a half hour flight as the ground team covered in a day, it was also far safer and more comfortable for the team to stay sheltered. Salazar and Mcbride were joined by Mario Carnevale and Myles Danforth of Hager GeoScience Inc. and Janis Kuze and Alexey Dobrovolskiy of SPH Engineering, developers of the UgCS software the team used on this mission.
When the drone detected an anomaly 300 feet below the surface and after confirmation the team dug into the ice using water from a hot pressure washer to tunnel down. When they pulled the probe back up, it was covered in a thick red liquid. While they were confused initially, experts informed them that this was likely a type of hydraulic fluid specific to the P-38 warplane. The mission will continue next summer, when the search team will return and attempt to dig the plane up.
The use of drones to carry ground penetrating radar could have other important applications. A team of researchers from Bogota, Columbia recently showed off a design for a drone with ground penetrating radar that they hope can be used to search for landmines buried deep underground. Along with digging out the P-38, Salazar and his collaborators will continue the search for missing crew from a Coast Guard crash to finally bringing their bodies’ home.