Meet BuNo 140436, one of only four P2V Neptunes who braved the harsh Antarctica conditions in support of Operation Deep Freeze. Take a closer look at the history of '436 and its career - spanning from the mysterious and uncharted Antarctica to the lush green Ohio fields of the Walter Soplata property to the arid Mojave boneyard.
The P2 Neptune was developed for the United States Navy by Lockheed to replace the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura and Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon. The Neptune was a land-based maritime patrol bomber and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft.
Development began in the early years of World War II but it was considered a low priority at the time because other similar aircraft were in production or development, including Lockheed’s PV-2 Harpoon. In 1943, two prototype planes (XP2V) were ordered by the U.S. Navy, with an additional 15 planes ordered soon after. The first flew in May 1945, followed by production beginning in 1946, with the aircraft finally accepted into service in 1947.
The Neptune was in constant development, with many variants introduced between 1945 and 1954 in the U.S., and a model built in Japan in 1969. During the factory production period between 1944 and 1962 (1978 in Japan) 1,184 were built.
Wing Span: 103 FT 10 IN
Length: 91 FT 8 IN
Height: 29 FT 4 IN
Range: 3780 NM
Cruise speed: 175 kts
Ceiling: 22,000 FT
Empty weight: 49,935 lb
Max Takeoff Weight: 79,895 lb
Rate of Climb: 1,797 FT / MINUTE
Engine: 2 × 3,500-hp Wright Cyclone R-3350-32W radial piston engines and two 3,400lb thurst J34-WE-36 auxiliary turbojets
Photo by US Navy, courtesy of VX(E)-6 aircraft page
Only four P2Vs were converted for Antarctic duties. This variant was called P2V-7LP and were unarmed factory conversions which included skis and photographic equipment.
The four P2V-7LP aircraft were assigned to VX-6 to provide support for Operation Deep Freeze II and III Antarctic missions. These polar equipped aircraft were provisioned with ski wheels and JATO (jet-assisted take-off) systems to help overcome severe conditions. Two of the P2V-7LPs were lost. ‘439 crashed on takeoff in 1961; ‘434 was lost in a crash landing. Two other Neptunes also supported VX-6 operations in Antarctica - two P2V-2N models. Read more about them here .
Photo by US Navy, courtesy of VX(E)-6 aircraft page
Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF) is codename for a series of missions to Antarctica, beginning with "Operation Deep Freeze I" in 1955–56, followed by "Operation Deep Freeze II", "Operation Deep Freeze III", and so on. Operation Deep Freeze is now used as a general term to represent the U.S. operations in Antarctica.
The initial objectives of Operation Deep Freeze I included establishing a permanent base for IGY collaborative studies in Antarctica. Task Force 43 was formed by the U.S. Navy to complete this mission. In 1956, the first permanent base at the South Pole was set up, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
The International Geophysical Year (also known as IGY) (July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958) was an international collaborative scientific project among many nations to perform earth science studies from the North Pole to the South Pole and everywhere in between. The U.S., along with New Zealand, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Chile, Norway, Argentina, and the U.S.S.R. embarked on an exploration of the largely uncharted and unexplored South Pole, in order to advance world knowledge of Antarctic weather systems, glacial movements, hydrography and bird and marine life.
The IGY marked a new global commitment to engage in scientific exchange, ending an extended period of Cold War distrust and noncooperation. For the event, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. launched satellites, including the first successful artificial satellite Sputnik 1, launched October 4, 1957. During this period, the Van Allen belts were discovered.
Other earth sciences were studied collaboratively, with the IGY timed perfectly for studying such phenomena as:
Enjoy this Periscope Film about Operation Deep Freeze, filmed by the U.S. Navy and Walt Disney Studios.
VX-6 (Antarctic Development Squadron Six or ANTARCTIC DEVRON SIX) was a U.S. Navy air test and evaluation squadron. Its mission was to conduct operations in support of Operation Deep Freeze.
It was established at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland in January 1955 as Air Development Squadron Six (VX-6), and relocated to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island in February 1956. In 1969 it was redesignated Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6). The squadron later relocated to NAS Point Mugu, with forward operating bases in McMurdo Station, Antarctica and Christchurch, New Zealand. They were disestablished in March 1999.
Pictured are: Arthur Barber, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, Representative; First Lieutenant Charles Freeman, U.S. Army; Squadron Leader Kenneth Wyrdnam, RAF; Lieutenant Junior Grade John W. Hilt, USN; and Captain Joseph F. Lisicky, USMC.
The squadron flew many types of aircraft and performed many pioneering missions throughout its lifetime. VX-6 was responsible for establishing the first air link between New Zealand and Antarctica in 1955, for landing the first aircraft at the South Pole (a R4D Dakota) in 1956, for performing the first midwinter emergency medevac flight from Antarctica to Christchurch, New Zealand in 1961, made the longest flight in Antarctic history in 1963 with a LC-130F Hercules, and in 1967 completing the first scheduled winter flight to Antarctica. Read more about this brave group on The "Unofficial" VXE-6 Webpage .
140436 (MSN 726-7095) was one of four P2V-7LP models, built specifically for Antarctic operations. It was built in Lockheed’s Burbank, CA plant in 1956. It was accepted by the U.S. Navy in November 1956 and spent its entire career with VX-6 until struck off charge in July 1965. Its nickname was “Candid Camera”. ‘436 was modified for the extreme arctic conditions, including ski landing gear and JATO, and for scientific study including photography equipment and magnetic anomaly detectors (MAD) for surveying and other uses.
Records show the following for ‘436:
In 1971, Walter Soplata saved ‘436 from scrapping. Using a makeshift flatbed he made from an old school bus, he himself transported the Neptune back to his property in Newbury, OH. ‘436 remained on the Soplata property for nearly 50 years until, in 2019, MotoArt owner Dave Hall and the team carefully excised it from the overgrown greenery that had been its home for decades.
“Seeing this Neptune in the lush greenery of Ohio, knowing it had once been a huge part of Antarctic history, was just unreal,” recalls Hall. The team was careful to preserve what it could of the sections that were intact. The cockpit itself was taken to MotoArt’s property at Mojave Air and Space Port, with the hopes that it will go to a museum one day. The stars and stripes and Navy insignia from the fuselage were also saved; one set will be displayed at MotoArt and the other will be sold.
“We are so grateful for Walter Soplata’s foresight in saving this rare aircraft and keeping it safe,” says Hall. “When we peeled away the tail section from the bus we found it perfectly frozen in time. Even the bus should have been in a museum.”
Wally Soplata, Margaret Soplata in front of the P2 Neptune and bus
Read more about Walter Soplata: The Soplata Collection: Preserving Planes for over 70 years
The team returned to California and started preparing the materials. As previously mentioned, the cockpit was moved to Mojave where the desert air will keep it from deteriorating any further until it finds a permanent home. It joins #44924, also a Soplata aircraft, a former American Airlines and Ortner Air Service DC-7B.
The remaining tail portion was moved to MotoArt Studios in Torrance, CA to upcycle into Neptune PlaneTags, a collectible commemorating Operation Deep Freeze and our plane's role.
MotoArt has created Lockheed P2V Neptune PlaneTags from the tail section of ‘436. The limited series is numbered to 3,500 and will be initially offered in the following variants: Snow White, Antarctica Orange, P-2 Green, Deep Freeze Green , Icicle Silver, Frost Bite Blue, and Neptune Blue. All of the Neptune PlaneTags bear the marks, wear and tear, and patina from its years of service in the harsh Arctic and retirement in the overgrown greenery of northeast Ohio. Collect the whole set for your collection. They will make a great gift for a Navy service person or for anyone who loves an adventure. They are available now at planetags.com.
Our special edition PlaneTags from the Soplata collection are growing. If you’re a collector, don’t wait to grab one. Our Boeing B-52 Lucky Lady III #53-394 has sold out. As of this writing, these Soplata Collection PlaneTags are still available:
In case you missed these stories in the past, check out our blog posts about planes that MotoArt obtained from the Walter Soplata family: