single.php American Heritage Museum to Welcome Newly Restored General Motors FM-2 Wildcat in July as Highlight Exhibit on World War II Naval Aviation - The American Heritage Museum header.php
News and Events
April 5, 2024

The American Heritage Museum, renowned for its dedication to preserving and showcasing military history throughout the ages, is excited to announce that we have been chosen by the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, FL to receive the 1944 General Motors FM-2 Wildcat, Bureau Number 57039, once restoration is complete at the Air Zoo Science and Aerospace Experience in Kalamazoo, MI. This iconic and historic aircraft will join the museum’s extensive collection and serve as a highlight exhibit on World War II Naval Aviation.

The General Motors FM-2 Wildcat holds a significant place in the annals of American military history. Designed by Grumman as the F4F and produced under contract by General Motors during World War II, it was a carrier-based fighter aircraft that played a pivotal role in defending the fleet and engaging enemy forces in the Pacific Theater. With its distinctive folding wings and hand-crank landing gear from early in the war, the Wildcat remained an effective fighter until the closing days of the war.

This Wildcat, Bureau Number 57039 was used to train Naval aviators in the Great Lakes region during WWII. Flying from the USS Sable and USS Wolverine, two paddle steamers converted into training aircraft carriers on Lake Michigan, aircraft like the Wildcat were used to train pilots on carrier operations before deployment. On December 18, 1944, a brisk 15-degree day on Lake Michigan, Ensign William E. Forbes embarked on a training flight from the USS Sable.  As he began the takeoff roll on his third training flight for the day, the engine lost power and the Wildcat skidded off the deck of the Sable. As Forbes scrambled to exit the sinking aircraft in frigid waters, the fuselage was struck by one of the ship’s paddle wheels and cut in two. Though Ensign Forbes was picked up by a crash boat unharmed, the Wildcat wasn’t as fortunate. It sank 165 feet to the bottom of Lake Michigan where it rested for 68 years until retrieved on December 7, 2012 by A and T Recovery on behalf of the National Museum of Naval Aviation. The aircraft was relocated to the restoration facilities at the Air Zoo in 2013 and has been under extensive restoration to static display by their talented volunteers and craftspeople over the past decade.

“Considering the shape this Wildcat arrived in, the Air Zoo restoration team has done a tremendous job in restoring this aircraft back to original standards” said Rob Collings, President of the American Heritage Museum on a recent visit to Kalamazoo. “We are honored and thrilled to become the new custodians of this piece of U.S. Navy history at the American Heritage Museum where it will be enjoyed by thousands of visitors each year.”

The Wildcat is on long-term loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation and will join the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless already on display at the museum.

The arrival of the General Motors FM-2 Wildcat to the American Heritage Museum is scheduled for July 2024, with a special unveiling ceremony planned during the new WWII in the Pacific Re-Enactment Weekend on July 13th & 14th (click here for link to event). Visitors will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with this iconic aircraft, as well as explore the museum’s other exhibits highlighting various aspects of American military history.

For more information about the American Heritage Museum and its exhibits, visit

Contact Information for Media Inquiries

Hunter Chaney
Director of Communications & Marketing
978-562-9182 office

GALLERY (Courtesy of Air Zoo Staff)

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If you are visiting the museum this Saturday (5/25) and Sunday (5/26), please purchase Event Tickets at the link below. General Admission tickets to just the museum are not available this weekend - only event tickets are available.