Sunday, May 1, 2011


Is there really a genuine effort to recover and restore one of the most important and significant historical Naval aviation artifacts in 100 years of US Naval Aviation history? Or, is there actually a financial quest made up of poorly conceived and flawed attempts at the recovery of a supposedly elusive artifact which serves as a generator for more and more donations and funds to foundations and private entities? It would seem that more than enough funds would have been acquired for the recovery and restoration of this historically incredibly valuable Navy aircraft which represents the sacrifices of many heroic aircrews during the early stages of the war against Japan. Many such aircraft have been successfully recovered from the ocean and painstakingly, authentically and immaculately restored so that the history and sacrifices that they represent are available for public viewing, education and research. I know, I have restored an number of them, as you can see on my website. So what is so different about recovering and restoring this aircraft?

Obviously, one of the most sought after airplanes for recovery and restoration is the Douglas TBD Devastator which was an all metal torpedo bomber of the United States Navy, first-ordered in 1934 and entering service in 1937. At that time it was a very advanced naval aircraft, being an all metal monoplane with a totally enclosed cockpit and hydraulically actuated folding wings. It had a semi-retractable undercarriage so as to minimize damage in the event of a wheels up landing, and carried a crew of three. It was very advanced for its time, as biplanes for aircraft carriers were relegated to the past. But it was soon outclassed by the high paced technological developments at the beginning of World War II.

The Devastator performed admirably in some early battles, but in the Battle of Midway almost all the aircraft were wiped out. Their slow speed, particularly when dropping torpedoes, made them extremely vulnerable to fighters and defensive fire from enemy ships. At the outbreak of war with Japan in December of 1941, 100 TBD Devastators comprised the Navy's carrier torpedo force in the Pacific. Although the Devastator was a very advanced aircraft in the late 1930s, it was obsolete by 1942 when it was withdrawn from front-line service on the summer that same year. After that, it was used as an advanced trainer until the end of the war. Only 130 Devastators were built, and as of this date there are no Devastators that exist in any country, collection or museum.

According to Wikipedia there are only three Devastators known to exist underwater and they are: TBD-1, BuNo. 0298, Ex-VT-5 / USS Yorktown (CV-5), Jaluit Lagoon, Marshall Islands, TBD-1, BuNo. 0353, Ex-NAS Miami, Atlantic Ocean, Miami, Florida, and TBD-1, BuNo. 1515, Ex VT-5 / USS Yorktown (CV-5), Jaluit Lagoon, Marshall Islands.

According to the EAA website on March 2, 2011,, a fourth TBD-1 has been located. “The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, announced last week plans to raise a pre-World War II Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber located off the coast of San Diego, California. Once sponsorship is secured, the rare warbird will be retrieved and restored to static display condition. With no flying or display Devastator examples anywhere in the world, the TBD is among the most sought-after restorations, according to Capt. Ed Ellis, USN (Ret), who heads aircraft restorations at the museum. ‘It’s the ‘holy grail’ in terms of naval aviation, and something we’d like to have in this museum,’ Ellis said…”

In addition, “Ellis explained that until recently the museum’s focus was on raising a Devastator from the Atlantic Ocean off Miami, Florida. However, the project was scuttled due to legal issues when the party that discovered the wreckage filed a lawsuit to claim it. Another TBD located in the Marshall Islands looked promising but the logistics and cost of raising and shipping it back to the U.S. proved prohibitive...” And……”The museum is looking for sponsors to help with the estimated $300,000 needed to raise and ship the plane back to Florida, where museum staff and volunteers will be tasked with restoring to plane for static display.”

I would ask how much money has been raised through the museum’s donations and Foundation specifically for the purpose of recovering and restoring this great historic artifact. And, how were the funds raised, and where was the money spent? Does anyone besides me, have any insight to this mystery…?

(Photo - TimeLife)

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