Crowds gathered in a north suburban harbor Friday to watch a World War II fighter plane lifted out of Lake Michigan in honor of the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
“I’m just another guy who likes old airplanes,” said Chuck Greenhill, the elderly pilot and aviation enthusiast who sponsored the event.
The plane was requested by the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, which plans to restore it. A museum in Glenview has its eye on the plane once it is ready to show. The group of marines providing security at the event expressed pride for being part of the historical restoration of military artifacts. North shore locals also came through to observe.
Greenhill was joined by his extended family, many of whom are aviation enthusiasts and pilots. He declined to reveal how much it cost him to sponsor the transportation and lifting of the water-logged plane.
The plane was transported into the harbor so that it could be more easily lifted using a crane.
The aircraft came up in two pieces because the cockpit had been torn off in the original crash. And much of the body of the aging vessel was covered in zebra mussels, an invasive species that has taken over the Great Lakes in the last two decades.
“The airplane is actually in a really good state of preservation, but what happens is that the mussels are slowly making this a little more difficult to do,” said Chuck’s daughter, Stacey Greenhill, who is also a pilot. “It’s only a matter of time before they won’t be able to bring them up anymore, or they won’t be worth bringing up.”
Removing the tough layers of grayish white zebra mussel shells will be a large part of the job of the preservationists who attempt to restore the plane.
Chuck Greenhill said the Wildcat F4 saw combat abroad, but crashed during training in Lake Michigan in 1945.
“Later in the war, they rotated the front line fighters back because they were becoming obsolete and they used them for training," he said. "It had a take-off accident, and went right off the front of the ship. It had to be quite an encounter, can you imagine, in the middle of Lake Michigan on a December day.”
The training pilot survived the accident.
“These airplanes are really, really important to our being here today,”Stacey Greenhill said. “These are the tools that helped us win the war.”