We’ve been following the story of General Motors-built FM-2 Wildcat BuNo 57039, that was lost to the waters of Lake Michigan almost 70 years ago, from its retrieval from the bottom of Lake Michigan late last year, to it’s appearance most recently as the “before” plane next to a restored example at the Warbirds in Review program at EAA AirVenture 2013. The National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM) of Pensacola, Florida, which owns the plane, annunced last week that it had selected the Air Zoo Museum of Kalamazoo, Michigan to restore the Warbird to her former glory.
The Wildcat suffered an engine failure while taking off from the carrier training ship, USS Sable on December 28, 1944, dropping into the water right in front of the ship. While the plane sat sinking in the icy waters, it was run over by the Sable, breaking the fuselage just behind the canopy. The pilot, Ensign William Forbes, managed to escape both the fighter and the oncoming ship before the airplane sank. The plane was not seen again until it was raised last December by A&T Recovery of Chicago, having spent nearly seven decades submerged in 200 feet of water.
In a press conference held last week, NNAM announced that the restoration of the warbird would be handled by the Air Zoo Museum, a project that is expected to take about five years and $1 million, funded by the NMNA’s foundation. The Air Zoo’s Flight and Restoration Center, a Smithsonian Affiliate, have restored other projects including a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, a Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless, also recovered from Lake Michigan and now on display in the museum. It’s unlikely that this completed plane will stay on as a display at Air Zoo however, as they already have a similar plane on display. The Glenview Naval Air Station Museum in Glenview, Illinois, has indicated a desire to secure the Wildcat for display, and there is a historical connection to this plane as is was based out of NAS Glenview at the time of the accident.
The Air Zoo plans to capture the restoration project with live webcams and will be partnering with Western Michigan University’s School of Aviation and other local institutions to use the restoration as an educational resource for the community. Here’s hoping someone is looking for an advanced degree in zebra mussel removal. We’ll be sure to post a link here at Warbirds News once the promised restoration webcams go live, we’re sure it’s going to be interesting.