Top Guns of '43 tells the story of World War II carrier pilots
who trained over the waters just off the Chicago shoreline.
The war brought a massive increase in the demand for carrier-qualified pilots. However, it was not possible to remove a combat carrier from the battlefield to use as a training ship. An unique solution was found to this problem.
Two Great Lakes tour boats, the SS Seeandbee and the SS Great Buffalo, were acquired by the Navy and converted into training carriers, and became the USS Wolverine and USS Sable. Neither carrier included hangar decks - the trainee pilots landed and immediately took off again.
These hybrids had two unique features. First, they were the only U.S. Navy carriers to use coal for fuel. Second, their propulsion was provided by side paddle wheels, making them the only paddlewheel carriers in history.
The "father" of the Lake Michigan Carrier Qualification Program, Commander Richard F. Whitehead, had set an ambitious goal of qualifying 30 pilots per ship per day. By the summer of 1944, that rate had doubled. At war's end, more than 15,000 pilots and thousands of deck crew had been trained on the Wolverine and Sable.
Neither ship survives. Wolverine was broken up in 1947, Sable in 1948.
Links and Resources
U.S. Navy - History of Aircraft Carriers
Since World War II, the U.S. Navy's carriers have been the national force of choice. In over 80% of the times when the world has been faced with international violence, the United States has responded with one or more carrier task force.
EAA Warbirds of America
What started out as a club for World War II fighter owners has now blossomed into an organization whose members own and fly the whole gamut of ex-military aircraft, from the old biplanes, trainers, fighters, bombers, and liaisons of World War II to the early jets of the Korean War era to the aircraft of the Vietnam War.
U.S. Naval Institute
The U.S. Naval Institute was established in 1873 to provide an open forum for the exchange of ideas, to disseminate and advance the knowledge of sea power, and to preserve our naval and maritime heritage.
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