A World War II-era Navy dive bomber, lifted from Lake Michigan April 24, eventually will be put on display at a museum in New Orleans, salvagers who raised the plane told newspaper and radio interviewers.
The now-rare, mussel-encrusted SBD-5 Dauntless was lifted to the surface from 100-feet of water, then towed to Waukegan harbor to be hauled out, it was reported on National Public Radio the following day.
The Dauntless was one of more than 100 military planes lost in Lake Michigan during World War II, when fledgling Naval Aviators trained by landing on and taking off from two former passenger liners, USS Wolverine and USS Sable, that had been converted to small aircraft carriers. About 40 of those planes have been recovered and restored, but time is running out for the rest as invasive zebra mussels encrust and damage the metal, said Taras Lyssenko, owner of A&T Salvage, which found the airplane some 27 miles offshore from Waukegan using side-scan sonar.
The newly-salvaged Dauntless, which crashed Nov. 24, 1944, is to be restored and put on display at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Its pilot, Joseph Lokites, said he was able to jump free of the sinking plane after it apparently ran out of fuel. “I was lucky,” said the 86-year-old Lokites in an NPR telephone interview from his home in Des Moines.
Retired Navy Captain Ed Ellis, a spokesman for the National Aviation Museum, said in the April 24 NPR interview that Lokites “apparently made a mistake on switching the fuel tanks on the aircraft and switched to an empty tank and his engine stopped and he went in the water. And so they rescued him and the airplane sank. And this is the first time it’s seen the light of day since November of ’44.” Ellis said the right wing is damaged and the engine is corroded. The old dive bomber will take about two years to restore, then will go on display at the museum, he said.
USS Wolverine, originally a side-wheel excursion steamer built in 1913, was acquired by the Navy in March of 1942. Conversion to a training aircraft carrier began in May. Fitted with a 550-foot flight deck, Wolverine began her new job in January of 1942 to be joined by Sable in May 1942. Operating with a variety of aircraft out of NAS Glenview, the two paddle-wheelers were used to train pilots and landing signal officers.
Sable and Wolverine were far from being combat carriers but were acceptable for qualifying Naval Aviators fresh out of operational flight training. The two carriers had many limitations. When barrier crashes or other flight deck problem occurred the day’s operations were over and the small carriers headed back to their piers. A bigger problem was wind over the deck. Wind-speed minimums were necessary to land heavy aircraft such as F4Fs, F4Us, TBMs and SBDs on the short flight decks. When there was little or no natural wind, operations stopped because the carriers couldn’t work up to a speed that met the minimums.
Wolverine was decommissioned in November of 1945 and scrapped in December of 1947. Sable was decommissioned at the same time and scrapped in 1948.