Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Crashed Hellcat Rises Again…From Lake Michigan?

A F6F-3 Hellcat was recently lifted out of the 250 feet deep waters in Lake Michigan. This is the latest of a series of Navy aircraft recovered from the lake, including a recently discovered SBD Dauntless. The Hellcat was designed as a replacement for the F4F Wildcats which were far inferior to their rival, the Japanese Mitsubishi AM6 Zero. The F6F Hellcat improved on the Wildcat as it provided a much more powerful and maneuverable platform than the aging F4Fs. The pilot of the Hellcat, Lieutenant Walter Elcock, was attempting a practice landing aboard the USS Sable, a steamship converted into a training carrier by the US Navy when it was acquired in 1942, and was later sold for scrap after the end of the war. Elcock stated that while trying to land aboard the carrier during the fairly routine training mission, he lost the lift under his wings and was forced to ditch his plane in the lake. Instances like this are somewhat common while landing aboard an aircraft carrier, especially without fly-by-wire controls available in today’s jets. It is very difficult to land a moving object on another moving object, both of which are going dramatically different speeds. It is most likely that Elcock descended too fast and flared his nose up too much and the Hellcats 2000 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine simply could not sustain the 13,000 lb airplane’s altitude. Lt. Elcock, now 89, survived the crash landing and lives in Atlanta. The plane is destined for substantial restoration as 60 years at the bottom of a lake destroys the instrumentation, corrodes the metal, and most likely affects the plane’s structural integrity, delegating it to the role of a static display at an air museum.

-Daniel Q

Period 5


RickyM said...

Its interesting how the American military would choose one of the great lakes as a military ground, it seems kind of inconvenient since that would mean the carrier wouldn't be quickly deployable in case of attack. I also wonder how come the Plane lost lift. From my knowledge of aviation it seems as though not many courses are so rigorous as to make it heavy enough to lose lift - usually the air is thick enough at sea level to be of no problems. Good article Daniel, great reporting.

Ryan said...

In response to Ricky:
During the later stages of WWII, the US was not really at much of a risk of being attacked so additional carriers for emergencies weren't really necessary. Also,since it was a training carrier it would be either an outmoded carrier that was no use to the front-line service or would be as in this case a converted transport. As for the losing lift part, as Daniel said the Hellcat was a very heavy airplane and thus would stall out easily if taken to a too low speed, so it was probably pilot error not a malfunction.