TRAVERSE CITY — The Pearl Harbor attack may never be forgotten, but the secret drone and pilot training it prompted in Grand Traverse Bay could be something most locals don’t remember.
The USS Sable and USS Wolverine — two cruise ships converted into makeshift aircraft carriers — were stationed in Chicago at Navy Pier to train pilots during World War II. Both carriers played a role in Great Lakes history for helping the United States win the war.
“After Pearl Harbor the government was looking for a safe place to train pilots,” said Stef Staley, executive director of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. “Lake Michigan is completely surrounded by land and, for the most part, they could keep the trainings secret.”
The USS Sable made its way north to Traverse City and even “spent time in the Straits of Mackinac to help aid in a drone project the Coast Guard was working on,” said Terry Pepper, Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association board member.
The carrier spent the majority of its time up north in the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay and acted as a landing and takeoff deck for the drones during target practice flights.
“They were equipped with various torpedoes and bombs and conducted trials out on Waugoshance Point and around Hog Island, close to Beaver Island,” said Pepper.
“It was perfect as they weren’t on either coast so they were protected. They could do these flights and land back in Traverse City on the USS Sable,” he said.
The drones were also relatively inexpensive and were often used as target practice for pilots doing their flight training.
“They were made out of pressed plywood and I understand there are at least four drones out in the bay that either didn’t make it back or fell off the deck. But, because no one was flying them, it wasn’t a big deal and they let them sit in the bay,” said Staley.
Records show that while the…