Thousands of pleasure-seekers have sought relief from the heat of the city on the Seeandbee Great Lakes luxury liner, formerly in service out of Chicago But for nearly a year now there have been no moonlight cruises on this ship it has become the aircraft carrier Wolverine, used for training pilots from the Glenview naval base. Perhaps you have seen it offshore and heard the planes as they take off or land But until now Navy censorship has forbidden a detailed account of the Wolverine's part in the war effort. A TIMES reporter rode the Wolverine for a day and The TIMES today presents the first story and pictures of the carrier.
The six SNJ's flying high above Lake Michigan are strung out in a long line. Only the pilot in the lead plane is relaxed. To the other five fliers the aircraft carrier Wolverine they are rapidly overtaking seems no larger than a match box.
The experienced pilot mumbles something cheerfully incoherent into his microphone. The five are not cheered. It is the first time they have seen a carrier from the air. In just a few minutes they will attempt their first landing on one. The flight is from the naval air station at Glenview. The five are trained Navy and Marine pilots. After months of arduous combat practice they have been assigned to the carrier qualification unit at the field. Thev have practiced scores of landings on a field marked off like the flight deck they are approaching.
But the flight deck at Glenview didn't skim over the water, they are thinking. The flight deck at Glenview had solid land outside the markings that bounded the landing area. The radio crackles in the leader's ear. He is ready to start the fledglings in the landing circle that will put them aboard the carrier. As the planes roar abreast of the carrier they see the tiny crash boat following in her wake. A reminder that the landing must be good. They pass the carrier to starboard Now they can see what she looks like. Only a year ago she was the Seeandbee÷a Great Lake luxury liner. Couples once shuffled over the danee floor where planes now land. Already more than 7,000 planes have been set down on this slick surface.
Her 550-foot flight deck is long compared to some new auxiliary carriers. Her average 90-foot beam is wider than even the fleet carriers. A lane, narrower than a Loop street is marked across the length of the flat-top.
Toward the stern several thick cables are across the deck. This is the arresting gear. They will stop the plane. Forward of the arresting gear barrier cables bisect the deck. They will stop the planes if the arresting gear doesn't.
Forward and on the starboard side is the island, the heart of the carrier, containing the bridge and the flight officer's station. Nearby, are the four smoke stacks throwing sooty elouds into the air. The Wolverine is the Navy's only coalburner.
The line of planes rapidly passes the ship. Far ahead of her they make a great sweeping turn. Now they are rushing toward the carrier which is sedately moving toward them. the carrier's bow is headed directly into the wind.
The leader is comng down. He passes the carrier far to port, his plane low over the water. His face is turned toward the landing signal officer standing atop of a small platform at the end of the dek on the port side. The plane turns and roars in low over the carrier but does not land. He is merely getting his flock into position in the landing circle.
In the cat-walks overhanging the water the landing erews in their multi-colored helmets stand ready-arresting gear operators, firemen, spotters who maneuver the planes over the deck and deek officers
The sailors stand by at the levers controlling the arresting gear. The cables are elevated. The planes carry a hook on their bellies that catch on the eables.
The first novice is ready to come in. He is busy. The sweat runs down his forehead to his goggles. He is trying to lose altitude, keep his plane in the landing circle and obey the chckoff list. If he doesn't he may have to swim.
The list, mounted on his dashboard, says: lower wheels, lower flaps, low pitch on prop, carburetor cold, reserve fuel tank on, unlock tail wheel, hook down. He swings back of the ship at 100 yards÷his eyes on the signal officer waving his "ping-pong" paddles. The signals come: High, low, correct, fast. When he is almost over the ship the spasmodic cutoff signal, meaning cut your engine, is given. He rocks the stick gently. The wheels hit the deck missing the first two cables. The hook grabs for the next and stretches it as it connects. The pilot, one hand braced against the instrument panel jerks forward as the plane convulsively comes to a stop. The pilot grins as the plane handlers tumble out of the cat-walks and run toward the ship. They disengage the hook. His ebulation vanishes as the dispatcher rushes toward him and shouts a list of landing errors. The landing officer rushes over too and jumping on the wing adds his criticism to that of the dispatcher.
The flight officer leans out the window of the island and his comments boom out over the loudspeaker. Even as the pilot guns the ship and rises in his first takeoff from the carrier the caustie comments of the flight officer follow him over the radio.
Now, the next plane in the circle is coming in and the deck is cleared The rest of the entire group make ready for landings and take-offs to qualify them for fleet duty.
High above the flight deck Lt. Comdr. Julian T. Bolllnger, the air officer, tensely watches the landng planes from the vantage point of a high stool on the island, "I'm a flight offieer without fliers," Bollinger complains. "On a fleet carrier the flight officer lives with his pilots and gets to know them. My only knowledge of the pilots that come in for their land ings and take-offs is derived from watching them handle their planes as they make the approach."
The Wolverine has no hangar deck on which to store planes.
A veteran Navy flier, who directed fighter plane operations on the Lexington, Bollinger watches the men closely.
"The SNJ's," he explains, "are fairly easy to handle. They're utililty ships used by the Army as well as for advanced training. The bombers and fighters give us more trouble when they qualify than these boys."
The commander breaks off his explanation to pick up the radio microphone. He barks into it: "Jig Five, keep full throttle You're coming in too high."
Putting the the microphone down, he says, "I speak to the boys to calm them down rather than correct their errors. They're all nervous on their first landing and are apt to do almost anything." This was illustrated immediately by Jig Three who dumped his plane onto the deck with a loud crash. His right tire blew off the rim almost simultaneously and the handling crews double-timed out to maneuver the stalled craft out of the way of the incoming planes. The embarrassed pilot climbed the ladder leading to the island as mechanics changed the wheel. He entered the room and saluted. "Do you know what you did wrong?" Bollinger queries. "Yes, sir," he replies. "I dove for the deck. I couldn't help it, sir," he says. "I felt her slip as though she hit the wash of the smoke stacks or the propeller wash of the plane taking off." The flight officer says a few moothing words, directs him to rest in the ready room until the repairs are completed. As the air officer speaks the enlisted men in the room are busy. A sailor with powerful binoculars watches each ship in the landing circle and notes if landing hooks are down. A "talker" with headphone and mouthpiece strapped to him relays information to the signal officer. A record is kept of the amount of fuel each plane burns to insure keeping them in the air. Winds changes and data about the pilots are noted by another aid. A third sailor is the radio man. He speaks now: "Sir. The naval armory says that Fort Sheridan has told them that we're in the firing area of their guns." There is a flurry of activity as the navigator and the captain on the bridge below check to see if the ship is in the target practicing area. A few minutes later the report comes back: "Naval armory from Wolverine. Inform Fort Sheridan we are five miles outside the target area. The answer from the armory crackles back: Wilco (meaning "will comply '') On the bridge Capt. Roscoe Bowman is calmly watching the landings. A graduate of the Naval Academy in 1920 he completed pilot training at Pensacola in 1924. He has commanded the Wolverine since last October and is proud of her. "In a few minutes," he says, "we'll see the 7,000th landing on this carrier. That's pretty good.," he adds with a smile because we've only been operating siince August and a good part of the winter the lake was ice-bound. The converted pleasure ship has been successful, Capt. Bowman says. because there are no submaines, radio silence or blackouts to hinder operations. The luxury ship Greater Buffalo has been rebuilt and started operations on the Great Lakes as the aircraft carrier Sable this month because of the Wolverine's proven worth, he says. Groups of aviation mechanics come aboard every fortnight, Capt. Bowman says, for training in the different: phases of carrier operaions. They are instructed, he says, by veterans of the Lexington, the Wasp and the Hornet. Pilots who vill later qualify also come aboard for short stays to learn landing techniques. This is in addition to he crew of 300. The loudspeaker booms out: That was the 7,000th landing." The grinning pilot's name will be put on a plaque in the wardroom, Captain Bollinger says, and a cake will be presented to him But the landing completed, the celebration ends and the day's work goes on. On the small signal platform Lt. Charles K. Roemer, former signal officer on the Lexington, is still vaving the planes in. It is cold on the stern and he and his associates wear fur flying garments. A "talker" and an observer stand in front of him. His eyes never leave the incoming planes. As the plane approaches perpendicular to the ship he begins his signals with the paddles. The plane turns into the crosswind and then heads fort the ramp a hundred yards asvay. The paddles are excitdly waving him off. The observer at his side and the lookout on the island have noted that his landing hook is not down. The handlers crouch tensely on the catwalks. They know if he lands with his hook up he will crash into t.he barriers or go over the side. The swirling propeller may scoop up the deck and hurl shrapnel for a hundred yards around. Cables may snap and whip through solid steel. At the last moment the pilot sees the vave-off, guns his motor and zooms over the ship. The handlers relax again.
Another plane starts to eome in. He gets the cut-off signal and glides to a gentle bumping stop and he starts his takeoff. . An incoming ship, afraid the deck is not elear, ignores the cutoff and almost stalls and spins as he hurriedly pushes the throttle full. "That boy will get plenty of hell when he lands," Lt. Boemer vows. "I've brought in more than 20,000 planes on the Lexington and the Wolverine without a serious crash," Roemer says. "That pilot is one of three to ignore the cut-off signal."
The signal, he explains, is mandatory since the pilot must accept the landing signal officer's word that that the time is ripe for a landing. Ignoring the signal may result in an accident. "They're really a swell bunch of fliers," Roelller says. "I've already qualified more than 900 of them. Only two of the boys couldn't make the grade. Once they get over their fears after the first landing any other type of flying seems tame to them."
In the ready room below a half dozen officers sit drinking coffee to get the chill out of their bones. The bar that thousands of cruise passengers knew stands bare of liquor nearby.
"We're not the biggest flat-top and we never get out of the lake," an officer says, "but we're doing as much to worry the Japs as anybody. He looks at a newspaper clipping. It says:
First Lt. J. E. Swett, Marine Corps pilot, shot down seven Japanese dive-bombers÷a record for this war for one pilot in a single action during the enemy attack April 7 on the Guadalcanal-TulagiSavo Island area."
"He qualified within sight of the Wrigley building last Summer," the offieer says. "If he was the only pilot we qualified this ship would be worth its salt. As it is, we're turning out a lot more headaches for the Japs and Nazis."