Rare Warplane To Be Recovered

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

A TBD Devastator war plane that was lost at sea in 1941 has been located off the coast of San Diego, and a Florida museum plans to raise it from the bottom. Capt. Ed Ellis (USN, retd.), head of aircraft restorations for the National Museum of Naval Aviation, in Pensacola, told EAA the Devastator is "the 'holy grail' in terms of naval aviation, and something we'd like to have in this museum." Many of the Devastator bombers were lost in World War II, and today there are none on display. About $300,000 must be raised to move ahead with the recovery. The location of the wreck has been known for about 15 years by A&T Recovery, of Chicago, which has recovered more than 30 airplanes for the museum, mostly from Lake Michigan. The A&T team recently released underwater video of the wreck, which shows parts of the cockpit and fuselage.

The TBD Devastator was considered the Navy's most formidable airplane when it was introduced in 1937, according to EAA. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, however, aviation had advanced so quickly that the Devastator was already virtually obsolete. "TBDs were slow torpedo bombers that had to fly low, straight, and level at a fixed speed to drop their torpedoes," Ellis said. During the Battle of Midway in June 1942, 43 TBDs attacked the Japanese carriers, but 39 were destroyed. The TBD pilots, however, are credited with distracting the Zeros, enabling the Dauntless dive bombers to successfully destroy three carriers. "There are no aircraft on display anywhere to honor those brave men who did their duty," Ellis said. "Nobody thought to save any of those airplanes." The museum is looking for sponsors to help raise the money needed to raise the airplane and ship it to Florida, where museum staff and volunteers will restore the Devastator for static display.