LOWER TOWNSHIP — A new addition has the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum buzzing with excitement: Grumman's F6F Hellcat!
The aircraft arrived via truck April 29 after a long journey from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
“We are honored the national museum in Pensacola felt that NASW merited the responsibility of safe-keeping this rare and historic aircraft. It energizes us to continue with our mission here,” said Joseph Salvatore, executive director of NASW.
As one of the top fighter aircraft of World War II, the Hellcat was involved in 75% of the Navy’s aerial victories in the Pacific Theater. Slower than the Vaught F4U Corsair, this aircraft was better-suited for the requisite carrier landings performed by Navy pilots — yet it was also able to outperform the highly capable Mitsubishi A6M Zero in combat. 306 Hellcat pilots achieved “Ace” status by shooting down five or more enemy planes from 1943 to 1945, earning this aircraft the nickname “Ace Maker.”
Grumman Aircraft Corp. produced over 4,000 of these aircraft, yet only six have survived for display. This particular Hellcat was serving with Fighting Squadron 21 at North Island, California, when it was ditched at sea Jan. 12, 1945. Recovered twelve miles off San Diego in 1971, the plane was in surprisingly excellent condition. Despite 26 years underwater, many of the parts were operational (including the .50 caliber Browning guns!). Unfortunately, the aircraft received no preservation and deteriorated until acquired by the National Naval Aviation Museum.
As part of its loan agreement with the national museum, NASW will continue with the restoration of the Hellcat — which includes the reattachment of the starboard wing. NASW will be using its own funds, but is also seeking donations to help cover costs via a GoFundMe campaign. Be sure to stop by and visit the museum’s “new” Hellcat this summer!
Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located inside historic Hangar No. 1 at the Cape May Airport. The site was formerly Naval Air Station Wildwood, which served as a World War II dive-bomber training center. The museum is dedicated to the 42 airmen who perished while training at Naval Air Station Wildwood between 1943 and 1945. For more information, see usnasw.org or call 609-886-8787.