Heroes on Deck

22 February 2016

Royal Aeronautical Society

Networking Event

WWII On Lake Michigan

Heroes on Deck: WWII on Lake Michigan is a one hour documentary about a little known training operation conducted by the U.S. Navy on Lake Michigan, one of America's Great Lakes. Between 1942 and 1945, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy trained almost 15,000 pilots to land and take off from two makeshift aircraft carriers. Fearing attack from predatory German and Japanese Submarines on either coast, the Navy converted two, vintage, side wheel, coal fired, passenger steamers into aircraft carriers, to train pilots in the safety of land locked Lake Michigan. These freshwater "flattops" were unlike anything in the fleet and the program was not without hazard. There were many crashes and some fatal accidents. Today, perhaps the largest collection of WWII aircraft in the United States sits on the bottom of Lake Michigan, preserved in the frigid, oxygen deprived depths but they are slowly being raised and restored. Using never before seen archival footage and stills, computer generated recreations and hi-definition underwater photography the story of carrier qualification on Lake Michigan is brought to life by Director John Davies.










In 1988 Director John Davies made a short film about an extraordinary Naval training exercise that took place just off the Chicago shoreline during WWII. It told the amazing story of young aviators training to fight in the Pacific by learning to land on and take off from makeshift aircraft carriers operating in Lake Michigan. Davies interviewed several pilots, and using old newsreels and stills, his film ran locally to critical acclaim.

That effort didn’t include digital recreations, declassified footage, a recently discovered photo archive, or underwater recovery footage of priceless warbirds on the bottom of the lake. Davies and his seasoned producing partners Harvey Moshman and Brian Kallies, believe it’s time to revisit this little known chapter of World War II history with a new documentary for National Public Television. Naval and World War II historians consider the Lake Michigan Carrier Qualification program to be a key event leading to victory in the Pacific. HEROES ON DECK is a story that needs to be told now, by the brave men who were actually there.

Project Summary

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US Navy was desperate for pilots who could take off from aircraft carriers, strike the enemy, navigate their way back to the ship and land safely…no easy task in the vast Pacific. With only seven real carriers left in the entire Navy, none could be spared for training. In order to quickly train thousands of aviators, Commander Richard F. Whitehead proposed a radical idea. He suggested that two coal-fired, side-wheeled, passenger steamers, the Seaandbee and Greater Buffalo, be converted into makeshift aircraft carriers.

The Royal Aeronautical Society are hosting the UK premier of this documentary. The evening will open with a foreword from the creator of the documentary followed by the full screening. Further details and ticket availability will be released shortly. 

This event is free to attend and we welcome both Members and Non Members. To RSVP, please click the Register button under Key Details and log in to your profile or create a user account. Alternatively, send your name and contact details to conference@aerosociety.com to reserve your place.


Royal Aeronautical Society