As we reported previously, the Marine Corps decided to permanently close its only museum devoted solely to aviation on March 28th, 2021 — an unfortunate decision which the institution’s foundation and volunteers had worked hard to avoid for the past decade. Subsequent to its closing, however, came the thorny issue of where to place the aircraft within its collection. As we noted on August 2nd, their unique Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless found a new home with the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And now we report that their FM-2 Wildcat has moved across the country to join the Hickory Aviation Museum in Hickory, North Carolina.
The US Navy accepted this FM-2 (BuNo. 16278) on January 12, 1944. Its first few months of service are unclear presently, but it did appear in the South Pacific during October 1944 with Combat Aircraft Support Unit (Forward) – Twenty (CASU(F)-20) on the island of Roi-Namur, supporting Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 31 during the Battle of Kwajalein. The Wildcat then moved to Majuro, providing island defense for the 4th Marine Air Wing and MAG-13. After significant use in the Pacific Theatre, BuNo.16278 returned to San Diego for reconditioning and then transferred to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU) at Naval Reserve Air Base (NRAB) Glenview near Chicago, Illinois. During a training flight on June 26, 1945 the Wildcat ditched in Lake Michigan, presumably lost to time. However, during 1991, a recovery team raised the aircraft from her watery grave, and transported it to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, who organized its comprehensive restoration back to static display condition. The Naval Aviation Museum loaned the to the Flying Leathernecks Museum at MCAS Miramar, where she had been on display since 1999.
The aircraft is presently painted to represent Wildcat “Black 53”, the fighter which the legendary Marine ace, Joe Foss flew during the Guadalcanal campaign. Foss ended World War II with 26 confirmed enemy aircraft kills, making him the Marine Corps’ highest-ranking Ace.
The Hickory Aviation Museum is located at the Hickory Regional Airport (HKY) in Hickory North Carolina and is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit organization. The interior of the Hickory Aviation has artifacts and memorabilia ranging from WWII to the present day. Including an exhibit about famed North Carolinians Bill and George Preddy, provided by the Preddy Foundation. Models are on display which depict how aircraft designs changed over time from the Wright Flyer of 1903 to the present-day F/A-18 Hornet. The Naval Aviation Annex is located in the old baggage claim area. Various artifacts are on display including an F-14 Camera Pod, two 20mm Vulcan cannons, one carried in an F-14, the other in a F/A-18 Hornet. USN and USMC uniforms are on display along with models of a WWII-era aircraft carrier and a modern Nimitz Class Carrier.
The public will have the opportunity to see the newly acquired FM-2 Wildcat tomorrow. The fighter will be unveiled during the August 12th Hickory Crawdads home game, and will be parked outside L.P. Frans Stadium from 5 until 8 p.m. For more information, please visit www.hickoryaviationmuseum.org