JANUARY 27, 2020 – From boat slips to seawalls to bridge maintenance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District’s Regulatory Branch has been issuing permits for years. But back in 2011 there was one permit application that took the district back – way back to World War II.
For the past several years, the Chicago District has been involved in the recovery of the once lost World War II Navy aircraft of Lake Michigan. Kathleen Chernich, chief, East Section of Regulatory Branch’s Permits and Enforcement Section, was the project manager for Lake County, Illinois, at the time that permit application submittals were submitted to recover the aircraft.
As a result of Chernich’s yearslong involvement, some extremely important historic aircraft have been rescued and restored on behalf of the Navy’s National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
“It was the most entertaining and historically interesting application review and permit issuance project I’ve had the pleasure to work on,” she said. “My father delves into the world of warbirds – vintage military aircraft now mostly operated by civilian organizations and individuals – so I had some background knowledge of single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft flown during World War II.”
Taras Lyssenko, part owner of A and T Recovery based in Florida, is the contractor responsible for raising the aircraft. During a talk at the Chicago District recently, he said his company has recovered about 40 aircraft, averaging about one a year.
“My business partner and I, Allan Olson, found our first aircraft in 1977,” he said. “But we officially started doing this type of work since 1986. We are hoping to soon do another five recoveries in Lake Michigan. The problem is the aircraft are deteriorating so much that they’re turning into ammonium oxide. So timing is key.”
Chernich explains that A and T Recovery would raise the aircraft from the bottom of the lake, then float the structure to Waukegan Harbor where it was removed from the water and prepared for transport to Florida for cleaning and cataloging. Floating the aircraft to the harbor before removing it from the water allows the team to contain and absorb any possible oil leak so as not to pollute the water.
“I photo-documented at least two of the removals at least five or six years ago,” she said. “However, due to a shortage of private funding to raise more aircraft from Lake Michigan, there hasn’t been an application since that time.”
Aircraft recovered includes an extremely rare Vought F4U-1 “Birdcage” Corsair Fighter that will soon be displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum, and a unique Douglas (now Boeing) SBD-2P Dauntless Dive Bomber that is being restored at the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum (Air Zoo). The Air Zoo is using that aircraft plus another, a recovered FM-2 Wildcat Fighter, in an education program involving students not only in Kalamazoo but within the Chicago Public Schools. Thousands of students, from middle school to university level, have worked with restorers at the Air Zoo doing everything from rivets to the fabric covering on aircraft control surfaces.
“The children learn the history along with the science, technology, and engineering that went into these magnificent machines that were used to preserve the world’s freedom and liberty,” Lyssenko said. “And it’s all because Kathy Chernich approved our permits. She did it. And all of this work that goes into the recovery and restoration – it really took all of us. We all did this.”
Story by Vanessa Villarreal
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District