Ed Scharch • USN Records • Training • CAA-WTS • Preflight • Primary • Intermediate • Operational • Carrier Qualification
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Training Carriers • USS Wolverine • USS Sable • S2c EL Scharch (NAS Corpus Christi)

NAS Glenview, Illinois
Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU)
In April 1943, the "fighting cock" insignia was adopted by Naval Air Station Glenview, Illinois.

Ed Scharch reported to NAS Glenview for carrier qualification around middle of May or early June 1944. The date is an estimate based on his completion of Intermediate flight training on March 14, 1944 at NATC Pensacola, FL, plus the time spent in Operational flight training. Although his service record is incomplete and does not mention this phase of training, it is most likely he did his Operational training through Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, FL and/or one of its auxiliary air stations. It was "toward the end" of Operational training, some three months later, when newly winged Naval Aviator pilots went onto carrier qualification.

During World War II, the Navy sent most of their pilots to NAS Glenview in Illinois. It was here that many naval pilots first experienced landing onboard a "floating airfield." There were two training aircraft carriers, USS Wolverine IX-64 and USS Sable IX81, operated by the 9th Naval District Carrier Qualification Training Unit on Lake Michigan, and qualified pilots for carrier operations. The carriers were berthed at Chicago's Navy Pier from 1942 to 1945.

Insignia 1942-43
This CQTU insignia was used in 1942-43. Depicting a training carrier, torpedo bomber and other aircraft.
map NAS 1940
Map of landing fields at NAS Glenview, ca. 1940
Map of NAS Glenview (ca. 1945) airfield where Navy pilots initially departed for nearby qualification training carrier on Lake Michigan.

Carrier Qualification on Lake Michigan

On August 1, 1942, the Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU) officially began operations. Brainchild of Commander Richard F. Whitehead of the Ninth Naval district, the CQTU fulfilled the need for carrier operations training in the safety of the Great Lakes, beyond the reach of German and Japanese submarines operating in our coastal waters.

Carrier qualification was the final phase of Operational training for fighter, dive, and torpedo bomber pilots. Prior to serving any fleet carrier squadron duty, the aircraft carrier (CV) bound aviator was required to demonstrate their mastery of taking off from and landing aboard a "floating airfield."

Toward the end of their operational flight training, and after completing about two weeks of Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP), the new pilots spent about two weeks undergoing carrier qualification exercises. These student officers were sent to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit at NAS Glenview, Illinois where two training aircraft carriers operated in the submarine-free waters of Lake Michigan.

Initially, when no extra aircraft carriers were available, the Navy acquired two coal-driven, side paddle wheel driven inland steamers from the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit Company and converted them to training carriers. The USS Wolverine (IX-64), originally built in 1913 as the "Seeandbee" by the American Shipping Co. in Wyandotte, Michigan, was commissioned in Lake Erie in August 1942. The USS Sable (IX-81) was a sister ship, first built in 1924 as the SS Buffalo, was commissioned in May 1943.

Home ported at Chicago's Navy Pier, these coal-fired flat tops operated on Lake Michigan and provided a safe haven from enemy submarines. This allowed the Navy to conduct year-round qualification exercises seven days a week.

To become carrier qualified, the Navy required pilots to take-off from and land a minimum of eight times. Carrier pilots typically qualified in combat type aircraft. Fighter pilots (VF) qualified in the Grumman F4F, (or FM Wildcat equivalent by GM; Grumman F6F Hellcat; Vought F4U Corsair, (or Goodyear's FG Corsair equivalent). Pilots of scout-dive bombers qualified in aircraft such as the SBD Dauntless, and torpedo bombers flew in TBF Avengers. It is said, whenever these front-line aircraft were not available, the pilots used SNJ's.

In July 1943, the 9th Naval District CQTU adopted Donald Duck as a Flagman (LSO) for its new insignia. Newsreel footage shows insignia displayed on side of SNJ plane onboard the USS Wolverine (IX-64).
Diagram showing flight path for a carrier landing approach taught to Navy and Marine pilots.
One of Navy's FM-2 Wildcats on final approach to training carrier USS Sable IX-81 on Lake Michigan.
fm2 ditching
An example photo of a ditched FM-2 Wildcat after landing in water, ca 1945.
One of two winterized picket boats which trailed along behind the carriers during flight operations on Lake Michigan. Ready to rescue a hapless pilot in training, they were never short of work.

Ed's Carrier Landing Mishap

It was during carrier qualifying when Ed Scharch had his landing accident. He has one or two successful landings and takeoffs. But it was on his next run that he failed to "trap" his plane with the tailhook and arresting cable. His plane skidded overboard and crashed into the cold waters of Lake Michigan.

There are missing service records of Ed's that don't account for the Operational training phase he obviously received, as carrier qualification was typically the final hurdle of that phase.

During WWI it took about 8-weeks to complete Operational training before Naval Aviators were sent to CQTU (carrier qualification training unit). Ensign Scharch may have arrived at Glenview in early May 1944. In which case the temperatures of Lake Michigan were still fairly hypothermic following a typical Midwest winter.

More than once, Ed mentioned briefly his account of events during carrier qualification. He completed one or two successful "trap" landings out of the eight required to qualify for duty as a carrier pilot. On his next run to land onboard the carrier, as it chugged around Lake Michigan, his approach was such that he was given a wave-off by the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) and flew around for another shot.

As Ed approached the ramp (back end) of the carrier he was undoubtedly more determined to land his plane this time. Apparently he was a little too high or fast when he cut power. Missing the arresting cable with the plane's tailhook, he landed hard and was catapulted overboard into Lake Michigan where he impacted the water.  

He was able to exit the waterlogged aircraft and swim clear of his wrecked plane. Becoming quickly immersed in cold water was quite a shock. He awaited retrieval from one of the busy picket boats used for rescuing downed pilots, and spent about 15-minutes immersed in cold water.

By the time help arrived his plane had sank and he was already hypothermic. Ed remarked how he could not stop shivering long after being rescued that day. He reportedly spent about one month recovering in a naval hospital from hypothermia and back pain.

Since he did not complete carrier qualification, Ed washed out of the Naval Aviator program. It had been nearly two years since he had joined the U.S. Navy and begun extensive training as a V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet and invested much personal effort.

By middle of October 1944, Ed arrived back home in Milwaukee in time to celebrate his parents 25th wedding anniversary. A photo taken with his family on or around Oct 11, 1944, shows Ed wearing a Navy uniform.

Throughout the war, roughly 120 planes missed the carriers' flight decks and plunged to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Eight pilots were lost, but the remainder were rescued by the Coast Guard, using two winterized watercraft which trailed along behind the carriers during flight operations.

Edward was extremely fortunate to have survived the accident. He was also relieved that he would not be climbing back into the cockpit. As he once quipped with a friend, "I wanted wings till I got them, then I didn't anymore."

Studies on hypothermia show a water temperature of 50 °F can lead to death in as little as one hour, and water temperatures near freezing can cause death in as little as 15 minutes. The actual cause of death in cold water is usually the bodily reactions to heat loss and to freezing water, rather than hypothermia itself. For example, plunged into freezing seas, around 20% of victims die within 2 minutes from cold shock; another 50% die within 15–30 minutes from cold incapacitation. Exhaustion and unconsciousness cause drowning, claiming the rest within a similar time.

Between 1942 and 1945, there were a total of 200 accidents with 128 aircraft losses and eight pilots killed during carrier qualification exercises. However, there were over 120,000 successful landings and an estimated 35,000 pilots who qualified.

Milw 1
Ed at home in Milwaukee with family for his parents' 25th wedding anniversary in Oct 1944.
Milw 2
Although he once said the Navy chow was pretty good, Ed looks content while gazing at some home cooking for a change.

Discharged and Drafted Back

This was just the first half of Ed's service in the U.S. Navy during the war. Following a short convalescence he was discharged from the Navy. The date of separation was not found in his records.

He returned home to his family in Milwaukee, unsure of what would happen next, as the war was still being waged with Germany and Japan.

In October 1944 his parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, which must have felt like a homecoming, except for two of Ed's brothers who were still in the service with one in England and the other in Alaska.

Ed's service records appear to be incomplete as there is nothing documenting  his activities after being commissioned on 14 March 1944 as Ensign, A-V(N), USNR. The next document in his records are his reenlistment papers from 26 July 1945. They refer to his previous service from 10/29/1942 to 3/28/1945 when he was given an Honorable Discharge at rank of Ensign (A1), USNR after serving 2 years and 4 months.

There were 379 days between his graduation and commissioning on 14 Mar 1944 and his discharge on 28 Mar 1945, and no mention of his activities or stationing while in the service.

A month later, he received a draft notice from the Navy, and he was ordered to report to Great Lakes in Chicago. He thought it was quite odd that the Navy drafted him back in after just discharging from the service. But that was typical for many Navy pilots who "washed out" of their aviation training during the war.


In Retrospect

There should be an aircraft accident report for Ed's mishap during carrier qualification in 1944.

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command's (NHHC) website, "As training vessels, mishaps, accidents, crashes, and losses from the decks were expected. Between 1942 and 1945, the years of the carriers’ operations, there were 128 losses and over 200 accidents. Although the majority of losses resulted in only minor injuries, a total of eight pilots were killed. These numbers seem significant until it is considered that during that time over 120,000 successful landings took place, and an estimated 35,000 pilots qualified. The training program, in this light, was a huge success."

“The Navy’s Historic Aircraft Wrecks in Lake Michigan.” Naval History and Heritage Command. U.S. Navy, July 28, 2017. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/underwater-archaeology/sites-and-projects/aircraft-wrecksites/aircraft-wrecks-in-lake-michigan.html.

The U.S. Navy maintains a collection of ship's (deck) logs and individual Aircraft Accident Cards. They were recorded between 1942-45 when carrier qualification flight operations took place on Lake Michigan with training carriers USS Wolverine IX-64 and USS Sable IX-81. The Aircraft Accident Report (AAR) collection is archived in Washington D.C., but is not available to the public. Each record describes each incident and assigns blame.

In late 2015, I spoke with the Historian and Artifact Collection Manager at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. According to Mr. Hill Goodspeed, the Aircraft Accident Reports (AARs) are on Microfilm, which have 1-2 page general paragraph summaries noting accident cause and assigned blame.

On February 26, 2018 a reply was received from Dr. Catsambis, a registered professional archeologist, senior marine scientist, and principal policy advisor with the Naval History & Heritage Command. He reviewed the records of the Underwater Archaeology Branch, but did not immediately find Ed Scharch's name directly associated with a lost aircraft. Without having the Bureau Number of the aircraft flown, it seems any accident record that may exist will probably not be found.

There were 128 aircraft lost between 1942-45 during CQ operations on Lake Michigan, with only six shallow-depth recoveries occurred at the time. Since the late 1980's, a Chicago-based company called A and T Recovery, LLC, has specialized in the deep-water recovery of many lost planes. A&T R has recovered nearly 40 aircraft from the lake bed on behalf of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

The numbers suggest about 82-88 lost aircraft are still sitting on the bottom of the Lake Michigan. If Ed's ditched plane was indeed lost, as he said, it is among the others that have been sitting on the bottom since 1945. Either way, his name should still be among the Aircraft Accident Reports or aircraft carrier's deck logs.

Undoubtedly a life changing event

 Ed Scharch was most likely flying a Wildcat or Hellcat type fighter during his carrier landing accident, with either training carrier USS Wolverine or USS Sable.

The accident occurred just before the end of his the flight training program would have concluded. He already been assigned to a coastal patrol squadron on the East Coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and said he would have been tasked with searching for enemy submarines.

According to Hill Goodspeed, it was not unlikely for coastal squadrons to fly patrol missions in fighter-type aircraft. The coastal patrol squadron was land-based with fighter, torpedo bomber, and scout bomber aircraft in use. Given Ed's combat assignment, his account of flying the Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter has greater validity.

Knowing any details of the accident would be an incredible find. The experience undoubtedly impacted his life. There is no shame in having washed out of  naval aviation, and surviving his harrowing experience. No shame whatsoever. You would not be reading this, had he perished.  

There are ongoing efforts to recover WWII aircraft from the depths of Lake Michigan. However, these artifacts are degrading at an accelerated pace. This is do to the many years spent submerged under water, and the influx of zebra mussels in the lake. The invasive species form a thick crust on the airframes causing extensive damage and making restoration efforts of these old airplanes extremely difficult. Also, some aircraft cannot be disturbed if deeply embedded in the lakebed.