Just landed at the Intrepid Museum is a new permanent exhibition that explores the story of a World War II fighter bomber that never returned to the aircraft carrier until now — and the young pilot who died flying it.

Corsair pilot Loren Isley
Second World War Corsair Pilot Loren Isley. Photo: Family of Loren Isley/Intrepid Museum

On March 18, 1945, 19 US Navy F4U Corsair fighter-bombers flew off USS Intrepid with orders to strike a naval air base on the northern end of Kyushu in the Japanese Islands as part of a final push to end the war in the Pacific. While their mission was successful, two aircraft did not return. Now, 78 years later, fragments of one of those downed planes have come home to Intrepid

Final Flight: The Story of a World War II Corsair is an exhibition centered around those aircraft fragments and dedicated to telling the story of one of the downed pilots, Loren Isley, from Missouri, who is known by all accounts to be the pilot of that aircraft and was flying his first combat mission.

Corsair landing Intrepid
A Corsair landing on the deck of Intrepid Museum. Photo: Intrepid Museum

Isley was from Missouri, and had been married only five weeks when he took off on that fateful mission. Official Navy records say his body has never been identified, but in conjunction with efforts to bring the Corsair home, Museum curators embarked on extensive research into the pilot’s history and became involved in the efforts to help bring closure to his family.

Eric Boehm, curator of aviation said: “From day one, I go looking for the human element behind what I’m working on. I needed to know more about the pilot, Loren Isley. Searching was difficult [on Ancestry.com] — there was a phone number and I just dialed it.” That number led him to the pilot’s nephew, Dale, a son of Loren’s brother, living in Arizona.

Pilot Loren Islay nephew Dale
Pilot Loren Isley’s nephew, Dale, at the Corsair permanent exhibition. Photo: Intrepid Museum

“Loren was my uncle that I never knew because he was killed in World War II, five years before I was born,” said Dale. “It was shocking to learn that this Corsair was recovered and returned to Intrepid – his home right before that fateful mission. The plane is such a powerful connection to him — he was flying it and he died in it.”

Dale added: “It’s a meaningful and emotional honor to have his Purple Heart, naval air pin and other family artifacts displayed alongside the aircraft he loved to fly. Thank you to the Museum for creating and building this tribute to the Naval flyboys of WWII, and for including our uncle Loren in the story it tells. Our family is so honored that he and his sacrifice have been remembered in this way.”

Corsair Plane parts at Intrepid
Some of the salvaged Corsair parts that were returned to Intrepid. Photo: Intrepid Museum

Dale has contributed personal memorabilia, including letters from Loren, family photographs and medals, as part of the exhibition which also features artifacts, rare photographs and an immersive installation, bringing to life the discovery of the Corsair, the young pilot’s journey, and the intricate scientific and technical processes behind preserving artifacts from underwater environments. “These parts tell a story, and its a story of Intrepid,” said Eric Boehm.

The Corsair’s journey back to Intrepid started in 1995 when a Japanese fisherman’s net accidentally caught part of one of the missing aircraft’s pieces. This discovery led to the finding of other fragments, including the plane’s engine, propeller and part of a wing. 

The Corsair’s pieces were displayed in 2007 at Saiki’s Yawaragi Peace Memorial Hall in Japan. In 2016, the city of Saiki returned the Corsair parts to the United States as a goodwill gesture and to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The parts remained with the US Navy, and finally returned home to Intrepid in March of this year. 

“At the Intrepid Museum, we strive to captivate and engage our audience with exhibits that are bold and full of life,” said Susan Marenoff-Zausner, president of the Intrepid Museum. “Our new permanent exhibit, Final Flight: The Story of a WWII Corsair, is emblematic of how we preserve and protect the stories of those who served onboard, our artifacts, and the innovative technology on display, utilizing them as a springboard to educate and inspire future generations.”

Artifacts recovered from wet environments, particularly marine, need specialized care to prevent irreversible deterioration and loss of valuable information. Conservators Paul Mardikian and Claudia Chemello of Terra Mare Conservation, who led the conservation effort, specialize in the conservation of cultural heritage. Through a multi-phase treatment plan, they revealed many previously concealed details, including the original yellow primer and distinctive dark blue color of the Corsair on the wing section.

The Corsair exhibit at Intrepid
The new permanent exhibition about the WWII Corsair at Intrepid Museum. Photo: Intrepid Museum

“Treatment of these modern complex materials and working with the Intrepid Museum to help tell the story of the Corsair and pilot Ensign Loren F. Isley has been an incredible privilege,” said Paul Mardikian, project lead.

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