Raising of World War II-era plane brings back memories for Palatine woman

  • Palatine's Roberta Braun,86, many years ago used to work on the Corsair planes back in World War II shows off her employee handbook that were her guideline for working at the factory when building planes.

      Palatine's Roberta Braun,86, many years ago used to work on the Corsair planes back in World War II shows off her employee handbook that were her guideline for working at the factory when building planes. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Corsair fighter planes, which Palatine resident Roberta Braun worked on 65 years ago, were key to the World War II effort.

      Corsair fighter planes, which Palatine resident Roberta Braun worked on 65 years ago, were key to the World War II effort. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Corsair fighter planes, which Palatine resident Roberta Braun worked on 65 years ago, were key to the World War II effort.

      Corsair fighter planes, which Palatine resident Roberta Braun worked on 65 years ago, were key to the World War II effort. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Palatine's Roberta Braun, 86, glances at the employee handbook for the Connecticut factory where helped design the F4U-4 Corsair fighter planes during World War II.

      Palatine's Roberta Braun, 86, glances at the employee handbook for the Connecticut factory where helped design the F4U-4 Corsair fighter planes during World War II. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Roberta Braun, 86, once helped design F4U-4 Corsair fighter planes that were key to the World War II effort. She and her Navy veteran husband Ed, 85, now live in Palatine.

      Roberta Braun, 86, once helped design F4U-4 Corsair fighter planes that were key to the World War II effort. She and her Navy veteran husband Ed, 85, now live in Palatine. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Updated 11/17/2010 4:17 PM

It's been nearly 65 years since Roberta Braun worked in a top secret job at a factory in Stratford, Conn., located along the Long Island Sound.

But when the Palatine resident saw the front page of a recent Daily Herald, featuring a photo of the World War II-era F4U-1 Corsair fighter plane being lifted from Lake Michigan, memories came rushing back.

 

"I was stunned when I saw it," Braun said. "I mean, whoever talks about Corsairs anymore?"

Braun stops short of calling herself "Rosie the Riveter," since she never worked on the factory floor. But she concedes she played a role in history, helping to design parts for the plane that's been described as one of the best performing Naval fighters in service.

The Corsairs were distinctive with their collapsible wings that allowed them to operate from carrier decks, and they were the first Naval plane to feature fully retractable landing gear.

Braun landed her job in December 1943, when colleges were rushing to graduate students early to get more men in military service.

"I was fresh out of college, and it was during World War II," said Braun, now 86. "I was supposed to be a schoolteacher, but I didn't want to do that."

Instead, her father got her a job at the same factory he worked at: the Vought Sikorski Aircraft plant. In one building he worked on gear parts for Sikorski helicopter transmissions, while in another building, engineers designed the Vought Corsairs.

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When she interviewed for her new job, she assumed she would work in the factory, like her father. But plant officials saw potential in the 20-year old Braun, and assigned her to take a six-week tool engineer class.

"I worked alongside of the engineers," Braun said. "They would give us a blueprint for a part, and we'd have to assign the type of tooling needed to make the part."

Braun figures she worked to develop mostly sheet metal parts for the body of the plane, including its wing components and fuselage, but not its cabin, tail or the instrument panel in the cockpit.

In a box filled with artifacts from those years, Braun unearthed one of the Chance Vought Newspapers issued to plant employees to keep them informed about the planes they were working on and their role in the war effort.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Its front page story proclaimed the Vought Sikorski Aircraft plant as holding the "leading position among Navy Aircraft Builders during 1944."

Because of her relatively high position in the factory, Braun had a name badge with special clearance, allowing her access to the factory where they manufactured the planes, and even into the experimental division.

"We knew all the guys who worked on them, but we never met the pilots," Braun said.

Near the factory was an airstrip where test pilots flew their newly designed models, testing them to see if the new specifications improved their performance.

"We would see them go up and come down, but we couldn't get close," Braun recalled. "They were really loud and left these huge vapor trails."

Braun worked at the factory for two years, until the war ended in 1945.

"Back then, it was considered to be a pretty good job," she said. "I made good money. But we all knew the importance of what we were doing, and we were proud to be working on them."

Braun met her husband, Ed, a Navy veteran who served aboard a hospital ship in the Pacific, after the war. The couple has been married for more than 60 years.

She later worked for the telephone company in Connecticut, while he worked as a service engineer, before being transferred to the Chicago area.

Braun stopped working once the first of their four daughters came along. But in their retirement years, she finally got to teaching, and for more than 10 years has taught English as a Second Language in both Arlington Heights and Palatine.

Seeing the historic F4U-1 Corsair resurrected from Lake Michigan, however, led the couple to reminisce about their war years.

"It was serious business, and we had to know what we were doing," Braun said. "But it was war time. It was a whole different way of life."