National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation Partners with National Naval Aviation Museum and the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Center to Restore and Display Historic Aircraft

The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation (NMOHMF), in partnership with the National Naval Aviation Museum (NNAM) in Pensacola, Florida, and the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, today announced plans to display a fully-restored WWII FM-2 Wildcat fighter plane in its permanent galleries.

After resting on the bottom of Lake Michigan for 68 years, the FM-2 Wildcat will be restored by Air Zoo’s nationally recognized restoration team to a 1942 condition. It will then be provided on a long-term loan as a centerpiece in the Museum’s Above & Beyond: Naval and Aviation Gallery. As a result of this partnership, the Air Zoo Restoration Team anticipates a spring 2024 completion before the museum’s scheduled opening in the fall of 2024.

Leaders from all three organizations will be at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center on Thursday, July 14th for their second planning meeting. Members of the press are invited to stop by for photographs and interviews between noon and 2pm. Interested parties should contact Air Zoo Director of Marketing and Development, Nikki Statler, at nstatler@airzoo.org or 269.350.2811 for a press pass. 

Chris Cassidy, NMHOMF President and CEO, said: “The National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation is honored to be the future home of this remarkable fighter plane. Thanks to our partnership with the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and the Air Zoo, millions of Americans will be inspired by the stories of the Medal of Honor recipients who flew this type of plane during some of the most challenging moments of World War II.”

Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad, USN (Ret), Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, President & CEO, said: “Having this WWII-vintage Wildcat on display in the National Medal of Honor Museum is vital for the American public. Not only does this aircraft help inform about the heritage and contributions of Naval Aviation on a strategic level – it also helps tell more specific stories of incredible heroism, with numerous Medal of Honor recipients flying this type of aircraft during the WWII campaign. Our collective ability to tell these stories wouldn’t be possible without the amazing artisanship of the Wildcat restoration team at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo and the committed partnership of National Medal of Honor Museum.”

 Eight different WWII pilots earned the Medal of Honor while flying the Wildcat. No other single-engine, fixed-wing aircraft has more Medal of Honor actions associated with it than the Wildcat fighter. The courage and sacrifice embodied within Medal of Honor pilots Henry Elrod, Butch O’Hare, Joe Bauer, Jefferson DeBlanc, Joe Foss, Bob Galer, John Smith, and James Swett will be further highlighted by having a version of their airplane on display within the National Medal of Honor Museum’s gallery. 

The FM-2 Wildcat, Bureau Number 57039, has a remarkable story unto itself. This Wildcat was used in training Naval aviators in the Great Lakes region. During a training flight, piloted by Ensign William E. Forbes on December 18, 1944, this Wildcat skidded from the deck of the USS Sable and was cut in two as the fuselage was struck by one of the ship’s paddle wheels. It then sank 200 feet to the bottom of Lake Michigan, where it rested until retrieved on December 7, 2012, by A and T Recovery on behalf of the National Museum of Naval Aviation and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. The aircraft was relocated to the restoration facilities at the Air Zoo – one of the preeminent aircraft restoration facilities in the country, on August 5, 2013. 

Troy Thrash, President and CEO of the Air Zoo, said: “Through the dedication and immeasurable skill of our aircraft restoration team, life is being restored to this amazing Wildcat and the stories of eight heroic Medal of Honor recipients will be told in a unique and immersive way for generations to come. Our team is grateful to play such an important part in this project, and we are honored to be part of this exciting time for the National Medal of Honor Museum.”

The Air Zoo’s Restoration Department is unique in that the program is found on the exhibit floor at the Flight Discovery Center located at 3101 E. Milham Rd. in Portage, Michigan. During the restoration, the public can stop by and see the work being done on this historic plane.  

Once the aircraft is fully restored in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Wildcat will be transported to the National Medal of Honor Museum in Arlington, Texas, where it will be placed on permanent display. The National Medal of Honor Museum is slated to open its doors to the public in late 2024. 

To learn more about this Wildcat restoration project please visit https://www.airzoo.org/wildcat-restoration or follow the Air Zoo’s Restoration Group page on Facebook.  

About the National Medal of Honor Museum 

The National Medal of Honor Museum, Monument and Institute will inspire Americans by honoring and preserving the history of the highest military decoration awarded for valor in combat. Serving as a national landmark – and located in America’s heartland in Arlington, Texas – the Museum will provide an unrivaled visitor experience and illustrate the historical thread of sacrifice, patriotism and courage that runs through all U.S. military service members, past and present. Beyond its state-of-the-art, interactive experiences, a critical part of the Museum’s mission will be to use the stories of Medal of Honor recipients to inspire their fellow Americans and motivate them to be their best selves.

Learn more at MOHMuseum.org 

About the Air Zoo  

Located at 6151 Portage Rd., Portage, MI 49002, the Air Zoo (airzoo.org) is a Smithsonian-affiliated aerospace & science museum with over 100 rare air & space craft, inspiring interactive exhibits, indoor amusement park rides, full-motion flight simulators, hands-on science-based camps, and more. 

For tickets and info, visit airzoo.org.    

About the National Aviation Museum Foundation 

The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation supports the National Naval Aviation Museum and National Flight Academy—which advances STEM education for the nation’s youth. They promote the history and heritage of Naval Aviation for current and future generations.

Visit navalaviationmuseum.org/ for more information. 

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