USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum Unveils FM-2 Wildcat Restoration

After a five-year effort this once-forgotten World War II plane has new lease on life.

Wildcat
The USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum finally unveiled its fully restored FM-2 Wildcat after five years of work.USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum

The USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum had a full plate on Saturday, welcoming visitors at Pier 3 in Alameda, California, for two new additions. The day began with the unveiling of the museum’s latest restoration effort: an FM-2 Wildcat that was recovered from Lake Michigan in 1994.

Obtained by the museum in 2006, this Wildcat was used for training pilots during World War II, before it crashed into the lake. It was discovered and retrieved by Chicago's A&T Recovery, which has recovered dozens of aircraft and ships since the late 1980s, including the F4F-3 Wildcat that hangs at O'Hare International Airport as a tribute to its namesake, Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the U.S. Navy's first flying ace and a Medal of Honor recipient.

The Hornet's Wildcat took five years to restore, and based on the before and after photos, it has come a long, long way since A&T rescued it from the water.

Wildcat
This Wildcat was pulled from Lake Michigan in 1994, and it was obtained by the USS Hornet's team in 2006.USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum

A&T's Taras Lyssenko was on hand Saturday to describe the recovery process, and undoubtedly to enjoy the end result.

Wildcat
This plane was originally used to train WWII pilots for takeoffs and landings.USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum

Additionally, the USS Hornet opened its “Sister Ship Row” exhibit, which features tributes to all 24 Essex-class carriers and provides visitors with the stories behind their service. And if that wasn’t enough, guests also enjoyed a craft beer festival and cornhole tournament.

In 2012, A&T recovered another Wildcat that is being restored, along with a Douglas SBD Dauntless, at the Air Zoo in Portage, Michigan. Air Zoo President and CEO Troy Thrash explained in an interview last year how Lake Michigan became a home for so many aircraft.

"During World War II, there were two passenger cruise ships that had their decks leveled to basically create a simulated aircraft carrier," he said. "There was a need for American pilots to be trained to take off and land on aircraft carriers before they could be cleared to go fly in the Pacific or in Europe.

"Many of the planes, including the Wildcat and the SBD, missed their marks, and crashed over the side of the cruise ships into the lake.”

As of 2016, A&T had located as many as 120 aircraft and ships in Lake Michigan.