November 09, 2010
Well, as of Monday afternoon the answer is "one fewer," as salvers brought up a doozie.
It's a Corsair, but not just any Corsair. That right there is the world's only known surviving F4U-1, the first marque of the bent-wing bird. It was sometimes known as a "Birdcage Corsair" for the latticework framing of the cockpit.
On June 12th, 1943, Ensign CH Johnson tried to land F-21 on the deck of the Wolverine. Losing sight of the LSO on approach, a common enough occurrence for the long-nosed Corsair, Ensign Johnson took a wave-off and, applying power, began to peel off to the left. Unfortunately, he had settled enough that his tailhook caught a wire, slamming the plane down onto the deck hard enough to split the rear fuselage from the rest of the Corsair. The tailhook assembly was ripped free of the plane as well. Both chunks of the F4U fell overboard and sank, though the front section stayed afloat long enough for Ensign Johnson to escape without harm.
The plane is in remarkably good shape for having been submerged in Lake Michigan for 67 years. The underside is coated with zebra mussels, a common enough problem in the Great Lakes these days. There is rust, of course, but the structure of the Corsair is wholly intact. Indeed, the salvers brought up both pieces of the plane. The only bit missing? The tailhook assembly. Eventually, the F4U-1 is destined for the National Navy Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL.
The salvage company that performed the rescue, A&T Recovery, says that there's at least 80 more warbirds sitting on the bottom of Lake Michigan, many of which are within 50 miles of Chicago. Almost all of them are Dauntlesses and Wildcats of various types. The F4U wasn't seen in the air above Lake Michigan, as the Wolverine and Sable were really not big enough to handle them comfortably. It may have been there as part of an attempt to requalify the Corsair for carrier operations, as the type had already been limited to ground-based squadrons in late 1942.
While Ensign Johnson got away unharmed from this crash, he wasn't so lucky later. He was killed in a midair collision over Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day, 1943.
Posted by: The Old Man at November 10, 2010 12:03 PM (Bhe/R)
Posted by: Tony von Krag at November 10, 2010 12:31 PM (VGXAE)
I knew the Great Lakes had a number of shipwrecks on their bottom, but I never thought about airplanes.
Interestingly enough, that wreck doesn't appear on Wiki's page of surviving Corsair's...yet. (There are five F4U-1A's listed, but no F4U-1's.)
Posted by: karrde at November 10, 2010 08:50 PM (ekCkq)
It never will be flyable, by the way. The Naval Aviation Museum is all static displays; they won't restore it all the way, even if it could be.
Posted by: Wonderduck at November 10, 2010 10:10 PM (vW/MM)
Posted by: Tony von Krag at November 11, 2010 09:58 AM (VGXAE)
Posted by: toadold at November 13, 2010 04:28 PM (qX4Ip)
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