A Grumman TBM-3E Avenger owned and operated by the Commemorative Air Force’s Rocky Mountain Wing suffered a minor mishap on March 17th, which unfortunately resulted in some expensive damage to the airframe, engine and propeller. The left main landing gear collapsed while the aircraft was taxiing at Glendale Municipal Airport near Phoenix, Arizona the day following a successful performance at the Luke AFB Open House. The Avenger sank down onto its port wing as the landing gear folded, with the propeller striking the tarmac and stopping the engine abruptly. The propeller is badly damaged, and will need replacing, and the engine requires a full overhaul as it almost certainly received shock loading due to the sudden stoppage. The left wing suffered some damage, as well as the lower nose cowling, fuselage and bomb bay doors.
The CAF moved the aircraft by road to their Airbase Arizona facility in Mesa, where the repairs will take place. They estimate that it will take roughly six to eight weeks to repair the aircraft, but that’s only if they can source a replacement engine and propeller in fairly short order. They will also need to replicate some of the aircraft’s structure from scratch to get her flying again. None of this is cheap of course, and it will require about US$100,000 to get the TBM flying again. This is where our readers can help, because the CAF has set up a crowd-sourcing campaign to raise the necessary capital. Please do click HERE to find out how you can help. Let’s show them what we can do!
The Rocky Mountain Wing’s TBM has an interesting history, and this is what the CAF had to say about it….
TBM Avenger Bu.No. 53503’s original logbooks show that the US Navy accepted her on June 1st, 1945 at NAS Norfolk and assigned the torpedo bomber to VT-75, known as the “Fish Hawks”. In 1947, she moved on to VT-82, the “Devil’s Diplomats”, at Naval Air Reserve Training Base Los Alamitos in southern California. The Pentagon sold the TBM to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1950 with only 546 total hours on her clock. Bu.53503 was one of 125 TBMs that Fairey Aviation Company of Canada, Ltd. converted into “modern”, anti-submarine warfare aircraft. These Avengers received an extensive number of ASW modifications, including improved radar, electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment, and sonobuoys. The modified Avengers received the designation AS-3. They removed the gun turret, replacing it with a sloping glass canopy (seen above) that was better suited for observation duties. The observer was thus seated facing forward.
TBM 53503 flew in 881 Squadron as a sub hunter from the carrier HMCS Magnificent. They assigned her the fuselage codes “ABK”, “AB*P” and later “315” as their numbering system changed over her years of duty. She also flew in this role during the flypast for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Navy Review at Spithead on June 16, 1953. That fall, 315 nearly disappeared at sea, along with 42 other aircraft launched from Magnificent and unable to recover due to unanticipated fog. RCN pilot Bryan Hayter was flying “315” on this nearly disastrous mission and shares this brief, well written and illustrated story [Blind Faith – A Magnificent Miracle at Sea]. TBM 53503 is later documented as being Struck Off Charge on January 1, 1958.
After her RCN military career ended in 1958, TBM 53503 was an aerial insecticide applicator from 1963 to 1970 for the Simsbury Flying Service in Simsbury, CT as N6583D. Acquired by the CAF in 1970 where she was painted as VT-10’s “white 82” with a tri-color Navy scheme for the CV-10 Yorktown, but still lacked the characteristic dorsal gun turret. She flew with the CAF Ghost Squadron in this configuration until 1981. During this time, her film debut can be seen in the first five minutes of Steven Spielberg’s movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – hint: she is the one whose engine runs!
From 1981 until mid-1985, the Avenger sat outside in Arizona waiting for her next duty assignment and in desperate need of repair. A new CAF Unit, the Rocky Mountain Squadron, formed in Grand Junction Colorado in 1981. This unit petitioned CAF headquarters for the TBM in 1984, and received her in January the following year. They flew her on a ferry permit from Mesa, Arizona to Grand Junction, Colorado that February to begin an extensive restoration lasting over four years.
By July of 1989, she was once again “ready for duty” – complete with the installation of the dorsal gun turret, and a new paint scheme – that of a TBM assigned to VT-84, the “Wolf Gang” squadron, aboard CV-17 USS Bunker Hill. This squadron was the first to attack Tokyo on February 16th/17th, 1945 and they adopted the colorful yellow cowling to enhance a “friendly” identification when returning to the fleet after a raid.
The TBM’s first CAF AIRSHO was in Harlingen, Texas during 1990, and since that time she has been on the air show circuit promoting the goals and objectives of the CAF. The Rocky Mountain Squadron has since grown to obtain official CAF “Wing” status.