Great Lakes Aircraft Carriers

One of the odder incidents of World War II is the story of the training of US carrier pilots on the Great Lakes.  Confronted with the necessity of training massive numbers of carrier pilots, the Navy decided to do almost all of the initial training of carrier pilots where no enemy action was possible, on the Great Lakes.  Purchasing two coal burning paddle wheeler excusion vessels, the Navy converted them to the USS Sable and the USS Wolverine, training carriers.  The idea of training pilots on the Great Lakes was the brainchild of Commander Richard Whitehead who was stationed at the Naval Training Center 35 miles north of Chicago.  The USS Wolverine  operated out of Chicago and its flight operations, often conducted within sight of Chicago, frequently caused massive traffic jams on Lake Shore Drive due to the hordes of gawkers who turned out to witness the training.  Pilots on their way back to the carriers would often get frisky, buzzing the streets of Evanston, Illinois for example.

The snowy weather on the Great Lakes made for harsh training conditions half of the year, a benefit for pilots who would have to fly in all types of weather.

Some 17,800 pilots were carrier qualified on the Great Lakes carriers with approximately 116,000 landings aboard the two paddle wheeler carriers.  128 pilots were killed in training accidents, quite a good safety rate.

Published in: on May 13, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  


  1. Neat… I did boot and corpschool at Naval Station Great Lakes. Was there in January… aye yiyi was it ever cold.

    • The Coast Guard used to send our fire control techs through the Navy A school program at Great Lakes. dennis51 has a gift for understatement

    • “Was there in January… aye yiyi was it ever cold.”

      Winters in the Land of Lincoln can be memorable.

  2. chuckle… Typical military stuff. We were not allowed out during the day for more than three minutes, but so regimental command didn’t get snow on their shoes in the morning we shoveled snow all night. I am sitting in spring time Guatemala and I just shivered remembering that 1970-71 winter in Great Lakes.

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