The USS Sable (IX-81) was a coal-fired, paddle-wheeled, fresh water aircraft carrier used by the U.S. Navy to train carrier aviators during the Second World War. She was converted from the passenger ship Greater Buffalo by removing the superstructure down to the main deck and installing a steel flightdeck. No hanger deck or armament were installed. She and the similar USS Wolverine (IX-64) were homeported in Chicago, Illinois and together qualified almost 18,000 Naval Aviators in carrier landings.
An FM-2 Wildcat has nosed over on Sable’s flightdeck. This photograph provides an excellent view of her rather Spartan island structure. Flight operations were sometimes restricted as Sable’s maximum speed was limited to eighteen knots. On days without wind she was unable to generate enough air flow across her flightdeck to safely operate some kinds of aircraft.
A similar incident involving another FM-2 as viewed from the island. This Wildcat has engaged the barrier after missing the arresting wires. Barely visible at the top of the picture, a second Wildcat goes around to wait for the flightdeck to be cleared.
This FM-2 has suffered a landing gear collapse and a bent prop. One of the many advantages of training on Lake Michigan was the proximity of several airfields, if aircraft could not land aboard the carrier there was always another field nearby. Since the paddle-wheel carriers were converted without hanger decks, the aircraft flew out to the ships from NAS Glenview.
A different FM-2 in the barrier with Sable’s island in the background. Sable was equipped with eight arresting wires. If the aircraft missed these a wire barrier would stop it from going over the side, although this often resulted in damage.
This Wildcat has spun into the island. Unlike the wooden flightdeck built on Wolverine, Sable’s deck was made from steel so she could be used to test various non-skid coatings.
Deck crew right an F4F-4 Wildcat, giving a nice view of the underside markings standard in the summer of 1943. Many of the aircraft initially used for training were timed-out “war weary” planes which had seen extensive combat in the Pacific.
In what must have been a frequent occurrence, deck crewmen shelter in the catwalk as a student pilot careens down the deck. For all the mishaps, only eight pilots and forty crewmen were killed while training on the Great Lakes carriers.
“Mobile sand bags” rush into position to weigh down the wing of this FM-2 after the port gear has collapsed. Many of Sable’s original crew came from the USS Lexington (CV-2) after she was lost in the Battle of Coral Sea.
An F4F-4 begins its journey to the bottom of Lake Michigan. More than 130 naval aircraft of several types are known to be at the bottom of the lake.
More than thirty five aircraft wrecks have been recovered so far, most have been quite well preserved by the cold fresh water. Many of the naval aircraft on display in museums across the U.S. have been recovered from Lake Michigan including the F4F-3 on display at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.