The Naval Aviation Museum of Pensacola, Florida will display the World War II-era FM-2 Wildcat fighter that was recovered from Lake Michigan last December by A&T Recovery of Chicago. The General Motors-built FM-2, BuNo 57039, suffered engine failure while taking off from the carrier training ship, USS Sable on December 28, 1944. While the plane sat sinking in the frigid water it was run over by the Sable, severing the tail. The pilot, Ensign William Forbes, fortunately managed to escape both the sinking fighter and the oncoming ship before the airplane sank. Forbes continued his service flying for the Navy, later getting married and becoming a successful attorney. The Wildcat on the other hand, sank to the bottom in 200 feet of water, though now it looks like it too will “live happily ever after,” after all.
The Wildcat and its tail will be shown at AirVenture 2013 exactly as it was recovered, though perhaps a bit less wet. Attendees will be able to inspect the damage from the accident, corrosion due to its nearly 70-year underwater sojourn as well as the impact on the aircraft caused by its becoming the home to thousands of quagga mussels, an invasive species, that along with the zebra mussel is wreaking havoc on the ecology of America’s freshwater habitats as well as damaging manmade objects and infrastructure within them.
There will be a presentation on the Navy’s World War II Carrier training operations, that were conducted on Lake Michigan, utilizing the aforementioned USS Sable, and her sister ship, the USS Wolverine, both originally side-wheel coal-fired excursion steamers, long past their prime, that were converted to aircraft carrier mock-ups for training purposes. The two ships trained 17,820 pilots and accommodated approximately 116,000 carrier landings.
It is estimated that anywhere from 135 to 300 aircraft were lost in Lake Michigan during carrier training and thus far only 35 planes have been salvaged. “Through the generosity of donors, such as EAA member Chuck Greenhill, who sponsored the recovery, we are able to preserve and present to the American public these aircraft that are so important in our nation’s history,” says retired Captain Ed Ellis, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Navy and corporate secretary of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. “With the support of the Navy History and Heritage Command and the many patriotic Americans who recognize the importance of our efforts, we must continue to retrieve as many of these WWII aircraft as possible before they turn into dust at the bottom of Lake Michigan.”
The name of the presentation is “Restoring the Wildcat,” and this lake-retrieved Wildcat is indeed going to be restored by The Naval Aviation Museum, so to give attendees an idea of just what that will entail, there will be a completely restored, airworthy Grumman FM Wildcat, restored by Conrad Huffstutler of Wild Warbirds on hand to compare and contrast and a discussion will be held centering around what it will take to make “the before” into “the after.”
The presentation is scheduled to begin at 1:00PM on Friday August 2nd, at the special aircraft display area on Warbird Alley, and we would suggest getting there early as this is likely to be a very popular and likely over-attended presentation.
Some video of the Wildcat shortly after its retrieval from the water, including an interview with Chuck Greenhill: