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The Story of our FM-2 Wildcat

On December 28, 1944, it was just 15 degrees in Michigan when the FM-2 Wildcat fighter plane that currently calls the Air Zoo’s East Campus Restoration Center home crashed into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. One of the US Navy’s most successful fighters in early WWII, this particular Wildcat was being used to train pilots for aircraft carrier landing and takeoff over Lake Michigan. After completing two take offs and landings that fateful day, the Wildcat experienced an engine failure that caused it to leave the deck of the U.S.S. Sable without sufficient flying speed and hit the water in front of the oncoming carrier.

Ensign William Forbes, who was flying the FM-2 Wildcat that day, survived the crash. The plane, on the other hand, was cut in half by the aircraft carrier and sank 220 feet into Lake Michigan where it remained, upside down, until it was brought up in the mid-1990s.

On loan from the Naval Aviation History Museum in Pensacola, Florida, the FM-2 Wildcat arrived at the Air Zoo’s Restoration Center in August 2013 because of the unique, hands-on approach the Air Zoo takes to aircraft restoration. In an interview with MLive at the onset of the project Air Zoo President & CEO, Troy Thrash, shared the Air Zoo’s motivation for restoring this historical aircraft saying:

"We didn't really want to do restoration for restoration's sake. We wanted to really expand this to become a community education project. The opportunity to say that I was a part of that restoration and that I helped to sand that wing or I helped to clean something or I turned a wrench or I drove a rivet or something like that we thought would be a fantastic piece of community engagement."

To date, the FM-2 Wildcat has been almost completely dissembled by Air Zoo staff and volunteers, who are currently in the process of rebuilding the left wing and fuselage. Guests of all ages are invited to come and check out the active restoration of this amazing and historic aircraft! Once restoration is complete, the Wildcat will be on display at a location to be determined by the Naval Aviation History Museum.

Posted by Abby Sample at 9:41 AM
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