Navy Finally Gives Up On Corsair


In some respects it’s probably a good thing that the U.S. Navy doesn’t give up easily but, in the end, even it couldn’t stand up to an indomitable Minnesota mechanic and his dream … of course, having a congressional order on his side didn’t hurt. Lex Cralley pulled the wreck of a Brewster-built Corsair from the swamp and had dreams of rebuilding it until the Navy said it wanted its airplane back. Lex Cralley seems to have won his bid to keep the Navy from repossessing the wreck of an aircraft it considered “demolished” after it crashed in a North Carolina swamp in 1944. Last week a U.S. District Judge approved a settlement that ends a lawsuit filed a year ago by the U.S. Justice Department, the climax of a six-year tug of war between Cralley and the government over possession of the extremely rare Brewster-built Corsair. During the height of the Second World War, Chance Vought was overwhelmed by wartime demand for Corsairs and Brewster Aeronautical Corp. was asked to build some. In the end, Brewster built 735 of the more than 12,000 produced. When Cralley’s fight became public, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), whose district includes the swamp where the wreck was found, sponsored a private bill that specifically ordered the Navy to give Cralley the plane. It passed, as did a Senate version, but the fight wasn’t over. It took another six months for Cralley and the Navy to work out a deal. The Navy was anxious not to set a precedent keeping it from suing others who might have wrecked Navy planes in their possession. Cralley is planning on trucking the wreckage to Oshkosh for this year’s EAA AirVenture, but in the meantime he’s breathing a big sigh of relief. “I’ve been under a cloud so long, it almost seems like a dream that it’s over,” he said.