Carrier Classic: Grumman F4F Wildcat – The Restoration

As I said yesterday, we will return now to the process of turning an ugly duckling into a beautiful bird.

First off I will show some of what the warbird looked like when we received the plane. The plane arrived in several main pieces as the fuselage and the two main wings.

As you can see the plane belly landed in the water bending the prop, caving in one side of the fuselage and probable damage to the rudder and elevators. Over time some more damage would have ensued while under water. The aluminum frame was in remarkably good shape without corrosion. Very little rust was seen overall. The engine suffered probably the most as it was encrusted with sediment. The fuselage was also filled with sediment. The landing gear was worse for wear. Much had to be fabricated from new aircraft aluminum. After cleaning work started on the damaged fuselage. The initial crew was relieved when it was noted a mistake was made in the cutting of panels which led to incorrect placement of an access hatch.

Crew #2 took over and they stayed on the plane all the way to completion.

Removed from the plane but not placed back into the plane so it could be used as a display. The self-sealing fuel tank.

Next up in the process was the manual landing gear carriage.

The pilot has a lever on his right side where he can raise the gear by manually turning the lever. As you can see the gear is raised by bicycle-style chain. It is quite the contraption.

Of course this meant sourcing all new tires for our hot rod.

Next up is the cockpit. As you can see a Wildcat is pretty basic inside and you can read the self-explanatory labels on the equipment.

Moving onto the wings which have been placed back on the fuselage after some minor work to them. One should note that the FM-2 and the F4F-4 had Grumman’s patented Sto-Wing aft-folding wing folding system. The early war F4F-3 did not have the folding wings. Unlike an Avenger the folding system on the wildcat is manual.

From there there we moved onto the damaged rudder and elevators which are fabric control surfaces over ribs.

Now for the engine. Our plane leader had his own machine shop where he did race engine work for Mercedes and Porsche. It was at that shop where much of the metal work was done for the plane besides the engine. The engine in an FM-2 is the more powerful Wright Cyclone R-1820 here in all it’s glory right down to the safety wiring of nuts.

With the engine now on the plane it was time to paint. The rudder, elevators and ailerons were removed after test fitting and had their fabric control surfaces applied. The main fuselage had been painted earlier as a test. We are fortunate to have a volunteer who is a paint chemist. He formulates the correct colors and composition of the paint and then goes to his paint manufacturer and creates the paint after which he brings it to the ship. Not only for the plane but for ship decks and bulkheads. So now satisfied the plane is taped off and painted in an evening after the museum has closed. After curing all the insignias are applied along with correct stencils. The plane is now ready for it’s dedication party set for a weekend. I see it before then and shoot it using my Minolta Maxxum 7D.

The detailing was spectacular in it’s execution.

The pilot of the plane when it went into Lake Michigan was stenciled onto the plane. With over 120,000 landings only eight pilots lost their lives in a training accident. This pilot survived but had since passed away. However, we did locate relatives and let them know that his plane and name were resurrected by the Hornet.


So that concludes my little story on an FM-2 Wildcat. I have several other plane stories, and one helo to work on, including the one that gave me my screen name. I am also formulating several on the Essex Carrier of which I am familiar with. Those will wait awhile because it is time for the Wildcat to shine as it is party time and she is going out for the night all dressed up. On top of it these things take time…whew