Odd little known fact is that the US Navy had TWO carriers operating in the Great Lakes in WWII…

One of my cousins actually got his carrier qual (CQ) on the Sable.

HERE and HERE are the wiki pages for the USS Wolverine, and the USS Sable. Both were converted merchant ships, and it conjunction with NAS Glenview, they trained over 17,000 pilots Navy pilots how to land on carriers.

Below is a video of flight deck ops. Quite a bit more casual than it is today… 🙂

But they do have a ‘launch officer’, and Landing Signals Officer (LSO), known as paddles (which you will see them actually using).

I did get a laugh out of the launch officer wandering around with his hands in his pocket. There are also some interesting shots of ‘hot swaps’ of pilots.


TBT… — 13 Comments

  1. I didn’t know about the sidewheel carriers until we’d watched a history show about recovering aircraft lost during the quals.

    Turning pilots into Navy pilots has always been dangerous.

  2. Great video!

    Here’s an article with some nice photos of early naval aviation, including the wooden ramp built on the USS Birmingham (CS 2) and the USS Langley (CV 1) converted from a collier and quite reminiscent of Japanese “flat tops.”

    KIDS THESE DAYS with screenshots of their CGI game warships are crowding out real historical stock photos on the internet. Some of those games have options to add sepia tones, graininess, and odd black areas around the “photo” the perimeter to mimic gun camera footage. Much of it is still a bit cheezy looking today, but I bet in another 10 years or so there may be “deepfake” operational images that will challenge if not addle your own recollections of ‘real’ history.

  3. I’ve always thought those were really neat, a war time expedient I would not have thought of.

    My understanding is that they trained foreign pilots too, like we did with foreign land based pilots.
    At the cemetery my grandparents are buried in in Michigan, there is a plot with a monument to a British bomber crew that died while training.

  4. John- Good point!

    Guy- Yes, sadly those deep fake photos are becoming more prevalent!

    Jon- Yes, they did train foreign crews too!

  5. I remember reading about Wolverine and Sable a couple decades ago, maybe in one of the Squadron/Signal Publications aircraft carrier books, and I think I remember them because of what oddities they were. They had no hangars aboard because they had no air group, did no real maintenance work, and planes were only aboard long enough to land and take off. Other oddballs like the original Saratoga and Lexington, the merchant aircraft carriers, the Pykrete prototype, and the catapult-equipped merchant ships stuck in my mind better than the Essex class fleet carriers or the umpty classes of escort carriers.

  6. One of my engineering professors was a Naval Aviator. I don’t remember where he got his CQ, but the diploma was on the wall….. 1946 IIRC. Mr. Copenhaver, I still remember….

  7. I’ve always been somewhat surprised that Naval helicopter pilots might be considered “bottom of the barrel”, given that rotorcraft are more difficult to fly than starch wings, but…
    Landing an airplane on the pitching deck of a boat impresses the hell outta me.
    At night. In rough seas. With 1/2 mile viz.
    I’ve had .51cal. stuff shot at me at night, and that will get your attention in a hurry.
    But I’ll take that over trying to put an airplane at sea back to bed after a mission any day.
    GOD BLESS the guys with the balls to take on that job.

    The Museum at Pensacola has an example of one of the training aircraft from Lake Michigan on display.
    (Maybe the “Science and Industry” museum in Chicago too?)

  8. TOS- Yep, strictly moving landing platform. If one broke, they had to go back in and crane it off.

    STxAR- He was, like all Navy aviators, proud of that!

    GB- Thankfully they did it time after time, just like you did. Thank you!

  9. Another oddity is the Brodie Rig that could turn an LST into a (very) light aircraft carrier. L4s (Piper cubs) were launched and recovered from a trolley and cable system suspended on booms outboard on one side of the ship.

  10. That explains all the WW2 Navy planes that have been found in the lakes up there.

  11. John- Among other things, yes. And a couple of bombers from the bombing training on some of the small islands.