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U.S. Navy Recovers Wildcat from Lake Michigan

Follow this link to a short video on the recovery. Vice Admiral Gerald Hoewing, U.S. Navy (retired), with the National Naval Aviation Museum is interviewed along with A&T Recovery's General Manager Taras Lyssenko.

Recovered Wildcat

A World War II fighter that had been sitting at the bottom of Lake Michigan off the Chicago shoreline for more than 65 years was brought to the surface recently.

The National Naval Aviation Museum with the Naval History & Heritage Command initiated the undertaking. The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation is sponsoring the location, recovery, restoration, and eventual display of a World War II Eastern Aircraft FM-2 Wildcat fighter from the depths of Lake Michigan. The foundation completed the recovery portion of the effort on December 7, ironically the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This recovery has been made possible through a generous donation from Charles Greenhill of Mettawa, Illinois.

"This effort will lead to another important World War II aircraft being presented to the American public that shows the significant history of the 'Greatest Generation,' whose courage and dedication to our country preserved America's and the world's freedom," stated Captain Ed Ellis, JAGC, USN (retired), vice president of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. "The Naval Aviation Museum will work for display of the Wildcat in the Chicago area in a venue such as the Glenview Hangar One Museum."

On December 28, 1944, the weather forecast for Chicago read, "Fair and continued rather cold today." At 1151 hours FM-2 Wildcat, Bureau number 57039, crashed into Lake Michigan in about 200 feet of water. Her pilot at the time was Ensign William E. Forbes. Ensign Forbes was in the process of making his third takeoff of his aircraft carrier qualification off the USS Sable. Apparently the engine checked out "O.K." However, on the takeoff roll the engine began to "pop" and then "quit completely." 57039 rolled off the bow of the ship and sank. The accident was determined to be 100% material (engine failure).

USS Sable
USS SABLE (IX-81) on 10 August 1943

This airplane crashed in Lake Michigan during aircraft carrier qualification training, which was conducted on Lake Michigan during the early to mid-1940s. More than 17,000 pilots completed the training including LTJG George H.W. Bush, later to become U.S. president. The aircraft carriers used for training docked at Navy Pier in Chicago, and the airplanes and pilots flew from Glenview Naval Air Station at Glenview, Illinois.

A&T Recovery, in conjunction with the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, the National Naval Aviation Museum, and the Naval History & Heritage Command, has been responsible for the rescue of approximately 40 World War II aircraft from the depths of Lake Michigan. These aircraft are now on display in museums and airports around the United States, including Hawaii. Two notable examples are currently on display in Chicago - a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter on display at O'Hare International Airport and a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber at Midway Airport.


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