Restoration efforts underway for Navy bomber

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Navy bomber that sat at the bottom of Lake Michigan for 65 years is getting a new life at the Air Zoo Restoration and Flight Discovery Center.

A team of volunteers has been restoring the plane for more than four years.

Wayne Debroske, a Navy Veteran who served in Vietnam, has volunteered 4,700 hours on the project.

Restorations underway for the SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber  at the Air Zoo Restoration and Flight Discovery Center. (Jan. 8, 2021)

“We’re trying to keep it as original as we possibly can, so we hunt for parts all over the world,” Debroske said.

Once the plane is finished, it will be the only restored version.

“It’s actually been tagged as a national artifact,” Debroske said.

The SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber played a crucial role in World War II.

“The SBD is actually given credit for winning the battle of Coral Sea and Midway. It destroyed more enemy ships, damaged more enemy ships, then almost all the other squadrons put together,” Debroske said.

This specific aircraft was damaged in the Battle of Coral Sea, repaired, and then used as a training aircraft on Lake Michigan, where it crashed in February 1943 while attempting to land on a flat top ship north of Chicago.

“When it first came out of the water, actually, it was not in bad condition,” Debroske said.

 SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber after it was recovered from Lake Michigan. (Courtesy of the Air Zoo)
SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber after it was recovered from Lake Michigan. (Courtesy of the Air Zoo)

The Navy kept the plane for restoration in Pensacola, Florida for almost 10 years before sending it to the Air Zoo. The condition deteriorated more during that time.

“It was quite a mess. It was pretty rusted. Everything had disintegrated quite a bit. They had removed the wings, the engine, so we had a lot of work to do when it got here,” Debroske said.

Since the plane sat in freshwater and not saltwater for decades, it was considered in remarkably good condition for a restoration.

Even with many more hours of work still to come, Debroske says working on the project is worth every second.

“It’s kind of like honoring the guys that didn’t make it back. The pilot that put this plane into Lake Michigan was killed in combat,” Debroske said.

The restoration has experienced some delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The volunteers hope to have the project complete sometime this year.

The plane is the property of the Navy and will be displayed at Pearl Harbor once the restoration is complete.

More information about the Air Zoo can be found online.

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