From the bottom of Lake Michigan to Virginia Beach: WWII Navy bomber joins military museum collection

Navy

Military Aviation Museum

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — For 50 years, a WWII United States Navy dive bomber sat under 177 feet of water at the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Now, the plane, a Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless, has made its way to the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, where it will be on display through 5 p.m. on March 31.

This particular plane, the Bureau Number 36175, is still in pre-restoration condition, essentially the same as when it was pulled from Lake Michigan in 1994.

The BuNo 36175 was lost during a training exercise on Lake Michigan Jan. 20, 1944. Lt. Charles L. Ford III was attempting to land the aircraft on the training carrier USS Wolverine but was too slow on his approach. He was given a “come on” signal, then a subsequent “wave-off” command to abandon the landing attempt.

When the pilot banked away from the carrier, he gave it too much power, causing the crash. The plan hit the water at “a near-vertical” angle on its back.

The pilot survived, but sustained a few deep cuts to his forehead.

BuNo 36175 was accepted for Navy service on Oct. 4, 1943, just a few months before the crash.

The Military Aviation Museum said the plane now serves as a time capsule. BuNo 36175 tells the story of the Naval Aviators training on the Great Lakes, and connects to the broader story of World War II in the Pacific.

The Dauntless was a scout bomber, used by Navy and Marine Corps pilots from land bases as well as aircraft carriers. It served as the principal American dive bomber during the war, and was replaced by the SB2C Helldiver in mid-1944.

The Dauntless is known for its role during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, where it delivered fatal blows to all four Japanese carriers involved: the Akagi, Kaga and Sōryū were hit and disabled within just six minutes, while the Hiryū was disabled later in the same day.

“We are particularly excited to welcome an SBD Dauntless into the collection, it is one of the most famous US Navy aircraft of WWII, and it is a type that our visitors often ask about,” says Military Museum Director Keegan Chetwynd. “Our Dauntless is being placed on display for a limited time largely as it was recovered from the Lake, to provide people the opportunity to see an important artifact in its pre-restoration condition. Aircraft restorations are extensive, multi-year projects but this exhibit provides the public a rare opportunity to see the “Before” state for themselves, alongside a number of our other WWII US Navy aircraft that have been fully restored.”

The Military Aviation Museum is located at 1341 Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach.

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