KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The Air Zoo has been selected by the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation to oversee restoration of a historic World War II era “Wildcat” fighter recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan after 68 years.
The plane, an Eastern Aircraft FM-2 “Wildcat,” Bureau Number 57039, was recovered from 200 feet of water by A & T Recovery of Chicago on Dec. 7, 2012.
Piloting the plane at the time of the crash was Ensign William E. Forbes, who was undergoing his third take-off from the USS Sable on Dec. 28, 1944, when engine failure caused the plane to roll overboard. Originally from New Mexico, Forbes attended high school in Fresno, California, and upon graduation in 1941, enlisted in the Navy as an aviator. He joined more than 17,000 pilots for carrier qualification training over Lake Michigan during World War II, including then LTJG George H.W. Bush. He passed away Feb. 19, 2008 at the age of 85.
The fighter, covered in mussels and cut in two pieces by the carrier’s bow during its crash, was found with air still in the tires and “in a really good state of preservation,” says Stacey Greenhill, pilot and daughter of Chuck Greenhill, who sponsored the recovery.
The Air Zoo’s Flight and Restoration Center, a Smithsonian affiliate, will direct the restoration. Past restoration projects include 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.