- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) - The restoration of a General Motors/Eastern Aircraft Division FM-2 “Wildcat” fighter that sat upside down on the bottom of Lake Michigan for 68 years has officially begun at the Air Zoo.

With work on the mangled World War II fighter beginning in February of this year, Air Zoo president and CEO Troy Thrash said that Air Zoo volunteers have been eager to begin restoring the aircraft since its arrival to the museum in August 2013.

“Our restoration team was champing at the bit,” Thrash told the Kalamazoo Gazette (http://bit.ly/1eqNTq6 ). “It’s like taking a kid into a candy store and not allowing the kid to get candy and just say, ‘You’re going to be in here for five months.’ So having that airplane here, they were so excited to work on it, so as soon as we got that green light they were rolling and they’re doing some wonderful work already.”

Thrash said that one of the reasons that the Air Zoo was chosen to restore this aircraft was because it would serve as a way to educate and engage the community. Air Zoo volunteers will be working to restore the plane over the course of the next four to five years.

“We didn’t really want to do restoration for restoration’s sake,” Thrash said. “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.”

On April 3, a group of students from the West Michigan Aviation Academy in Grand Rapids came to the Air Zoo and worked alongside restoration volunteers in order to learn about the Wildcat and what it will take to restore this aircraft.

“Just being able to be around these (aircraft) shows the great opportunity and appreciation we have for the aircraft history and bringing that back to see how far we have advanced, from nothing,” 16-year-old academy sophomore Daniel Herweyer said.

Being able to work alongside Air Zoo volunteers and learn about an aircraft built in 1944 allowed Herweyer to reflect on the sacrifices that a different generation made during a time when the world was at war.

“It makes me appreciate how much they have done and what has gone on in history,” he said. “They’ve shown that they’re willing to defend the country, why can’t we help out and help restore their aircraft and put it on display?”

The Wildcat, Bureau Number 57039, was being used for aircraft carrier landing and takeoff training on Dec. 28, 1944, when a problem with the aircraft’s engine caused Ensign William Forbes to leave the deck of the U.S.S. Sable, operating in Lake Michigan, without sufficient flying speed.

The aircraft struck the water and was then run over and cut in half by the oncoming Sable. Forbes survived the crash and completed his training.

The Wildcat sank, upside down, in roughly 200 feet of water where it rested for decades.

The aircraft was discovered in the mid-1990s and was removed by Chicago-based A & T Recovery on Dec. 7, 2012.

The Wildcat came to the Air Zoo on Aug. 5, 2013.

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Information from: Kalamazoo Gazette, http://www.mlive.com/kalamazoo

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