The FM-2 Wildcat safely tucked away in the hangar bay. The Stearman Model 75 can be seen the back (Commemorative Air Force)

The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) is an integral part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force as a forward operating platform. Essex is capable of carrying up to 1,771 Marines as well as the landing craft to get them ashore.

Her aircraft suite includes AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft, F-35B Lightning II stealth strike-fighters, AH-1W/Z Super Cobra/Viper attack helicopters, MV-22B Osprey assault support tiltrotors, CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters, and SH-60F/HH-60H anti-submarine warfare helicopters.


However, rather than her usual wing of modern jets and helicopters, USS Essex is currently carrying 14 WWII-era trainer, bomber and fighter aircraft.

USS Essex usually carries Marine aircraft like these Ospreys (US Navy)

The 844-foot-long ship is on her way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to participate in RIMPAC 2020, the world's largest international maritime exercise. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pentagon made the decision to cancel RIMPAC's air exercises.

In January, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called for a number of WWII-era aircraft to assemble in Hawaii to participate in a commemoration of the end of the war in the Pacific. Known as V-J Day for "Victory over Japan", the event is most commonly celebrated on August 15. On August 15, 1945, (which was August 14 in America due to the time change), Emperor Hirohito announced his decree to accept the Potsdam Declaration and surrender over the radio.

Since the Marines had to leave their aircraft behind, USS Essex had plenty of room for the WWII-era aircraft since the vintage planes were unable to make the flight to Hawaii. The planes will include five AT-6/SNJ advanced trainers, two PBY Catalina flying boats, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, an FM-2 Wildcat fighter, an F8F Bearcat fighter, a Stearman Model 75 biplane, a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber and a T-28 Trojan.

The FM-2 Wildcat is lowered to the hangar deck (Commemorative Air Force)

The planes will conduct flyovers over Hawaii from August 29, the day U.S. troops began the occupation of Japan, to September 2, the day that the formal Japanese surrender was made aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Before embarking on the trip to Hawaii, the pilots, maintainers and ground crews accompanying the planes were required to spend two weeks in quarantine at Naval Base San Diego to prevent anyone with COVID-19 from boarding the ship.

The 14 planes headed to Hawaii aboard the USS Essex will return to San Diego with the ship following the conclusion of the V-J Day Commemoration and RIMPAC.