The Navy used two old paddle wheel coal-burning steamers (USS Sable (IX-81) and USS Wolverine (IX-64) which had been converted into aircraft carriers of a sort. The USS Wolverine (IX 64) commissioned 12 August 1942 at Buffalo, NY, and USS Sable (IX 81), commissioned May 1943, were Great Lakes excursion ships converted for aviation training. Sailing Lake Michigan, they provided flight decks on which hundreds of student aviators qualified for carrier landings and many flight deck crews received their first practical experience in handling aircraft aboard ship.
The second Wolverine (IX-64) -- a side-wheel excursion steamer built in 1913 -- was originally named Seeandbee, a euphonious name based upon her owners' company name - the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit Co. She was constructed by the American Shipbuilding Co. of Wyandotte, Mich. The Navy acquired the sidewheeler on 12 March 1942 and designated her an unclassified miscellaneous auxiliary, IX-64. Conversion to a training aircraft carrier began on 6 May 1942; and the name Wolverine, commemorating the first ship of the name, was approved on 2 August.
Fitted with a 550-foot flight deck, Wolverine began her new job in January 1943, to be joined by her sister Sable in May. Operating various aircraft out of NAS Glenview, the two paddle-wheelers afforded invaluable training not only to pilots, but to smaller numbers of Landing Signal Officers (LSO) as well. As the Navy's first side-wheeled aircraft carrier, Wolverine was equipped to handle plane take-offs and landings, a vital duty that she performed for the duration of World War II. She contributed to the winning war effort in World War II by training hundreds of pilots in basic carrier operations.
The Sable and Wolverine were a far cry from combat carriers but were suitable for accomplishing the navy's purpose-that of qualifying naval aviators fresh out of operational flight training in carrier landings. The two carriers had certain limitations such as having no elevators or a hangar deck. When barrier crashes or other flight deck crashes used up the alloted spots on the flight deck for parking dud aircraft, the day's operations were over and the carriers headed back to their pier in Chicago.
Another problem they had to contend with was wind over the deck (WOD). Certain WOD minimums were required to land aircraft such as F6Fs, F4Us, TBMs and SBDs. When there was little or no actual wind on lake Michigan, operations often had to be curtailed because the carriers couldn't generate sufficient speed to meet the WOD minimums. It is doubtful if the two carriers were capable of making more than 20 knots under their own power.
Occasionally, when low wind conditions persisted for several days and the pool of waiting aviators started to bunch up, an alternate system of qualifications was used. The alternate system was to qualify the pilots in SNJs-even though most pilots had not flown the SNJ for four or five months.
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