Rare Corsair Rescued
Early Birdcage version recovered from Lake Michigan
November 8, 2010 — A rare, Birdcage Corsair World War II fighter was recovered from Lake Michigan’s Waukegan Harbor, north of Chicago, on Monday morning, November 8, after spending the last 67 years submerged following a carrier training crash. Vought F4U-1 Bu. No. 02465, coded “F-21,” was the 32nd aircraft from the WWII-era rescued by A and T Recovery of Chicago.
These earlier Corsairs are known as birdcage versions because of their canopy framework, as opposed to the more familiar bubble canopy used on later models.
David Staffeldt, EAA 570227/Warbirds of America 551902, witnessed the recovery and provided a firsthand account, along with these exclusive photos.
“They started about 10:30,” he said. “Words cannot express the feeling I had when I saw it lifting out of the water. I was right there on the pier, close enough that I could have touched the prop.”
When the airplane was about 6 inches beneath the surface, you could instantly tell it was a Corsair, Staffeldt said. “As more and more of it was exposed, all I could think was how massive it was.”
Staffeldt, who is chief mechanic for the Warbird Heritage Foundation in Waukegan, said that when the airplane was about halfway out of the water, one of the straps failed, requiring the team to install new ones.
Damage to the aircraft appeared typical of those occurring during carrier operations training, he said. Incredibly, the propeller appeared undamaged.
According to information provided by the National Aviation Museum Foundation, which is part of the recovery effort, Ensign Carl Harold “Harry” Johnson, U.S. Navy Reserve, was undergoing carrier landing qualification training on June 12, 1943, out of Naval Air Station Glenview, in suburban Chicago. His plane crashed over the port bow of the carrier USS Wolverine just before 6 p.m. He escaped the sinking aircraft and was rescued by the picket boat, suffering superficial cuts. The Corsair sank into 220 feet of water.
Two weeks later, Johnson earned his carrier wings after completing eight carrier landings/takeoffs in a North American SNJ-4C. Sadly, Johnson was killed in a mid-air collision between two Grumman F6F-3 Hellcats over Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1943.
The National Aviation Museum will restore the airplane for display in Pensacola, Florida. Longtime EAAer member Chuck Greenhill, EAA 113991/WOA 12289, sponsored the recovery mission and the future restoration to static display condition.