The Grumman built TBF Avenger was the Navy’s primary torpedo plane during WWII. The design was so effective that the plane received very little changes between the initial acceptance date and the end of production. The TBF, as was designated by Grumman, first flew on August 7th, 1941. It was accepted by the end of the year and coincidentally the TBF was revealed to the public on December 7th, 1941. By June 1942 over 100 planes were already delivered to the US Navy. 9,836 Avengers would be built before the war’s end, 7,546 by General Motors. By 1943 all TBF’s were being built under license by General Motors. The first combat operation with the TBF was during the Battle of Midway, when six TBF-1’s were able to make it to Midway as part of Torpedo Squadron 8 before the battle. Five were shot down with the sixth receiving heavy damage.
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The TBF Avenger, designated TBM by General Motors as is more commonly referred to, had many unique qualities that made it outshine it’s predecessor the TBD Devastator. The TBF was the heaviest single engine aircraft produced during WWII, even more then the P-47 Thunderbolt. The Avenger had a new compound angle folding wing that was designed to maximize storage space on carriers. The same design would be adopted for the later models of the F4F-4 Wildcats and the F6F Hellcat. The power plant behind “the Turkey” as the pilots came to call it, was the Wright R-2600-20 Cyclone 14. The Avenger took 25 gallons of oil and used 1 gallon per minute during startup. The Avenger had an impressive arsenal on board, with two .30 Caliber machine guns, a .50 Caliber machine gun and was able to carry a Mark 13 torpedo, a 2,000lb bomb or up to 4 500lb bombs.
The Avenger was flown with a crew of three: a pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/ventral gunner. One .30 caliber machine gun was mounted in the nose, but per pilots’ requests later models of the TBF/TBM dispensed with the nose-mounted gun for one .50 caliber gun in each wing for better forward firepower and increased strafing ability. A .50 caliber gun was mounted in a top rear-facing electrically powered turret and a single .30 caliber hand-fired machine gun mounted ventrally (under the tail). The radioman/bombardier fired the rear gun by standing up and bending over. The rest of his time was spent on a folding bench facing forward to operate the radio and to sight in bombing runs. The pilot seat had no access from the rear due to the massive radio equipment that was housed in the greenhouse canopy. A tunnel gave access to repairing the radio equipment. In most TBF/TBM’s today the radio has been removed providing a second seat behind the pilot.
The Texas Flying Legends Museum’s TBM-3E Avenger, BuNo 85938, was accepted March 29th, 1945. It was delivered to Trenton, NJ on March 30th, 1945. In April 1945, 85938 was ferried to NAS Alameda, CA to join CASU 6 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit). In May 85938 was allocated to Torpedo Squadron (VT) 86. From June to October 1945, 85938 served on board the aircraft carrier USS Wasp with VT-86. 85938 is a combat veteran having sunk two Japanese ships, a cruiser and a destroyer. On July 28th, 1945 Lt. Harry Badgerow was flying the TBM-3E “308” along with his squadron against targets in Kure Harbor, Japan. One well placed torpedo sunk the cruiser Oyodo. Later that day the same TBM being piloted by someone else torpedoed and sank the destroyer Nashi. Lt. Badgerow was flying 85938 on a mission when he was given orders to jettison his bombs and return to base. The first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. Lt. Badgerow would go on to fly 85938 during the signing of the Japanese surrender on the battleship USS Missouri as well as first aid supplies and food to allied prisoners at Nagoya Castle. One of the prop tips has been signed by Lt. Badgerow.
November-December 1945, TBM 85938 returned stateside and was assigned to CASU 22 at NAS Quonset Point, RI. In January 1946 it was assigned to VT-43, the Winged Skeletons, but was there only until February. From March-October 1946, 85938 was at NAS New York. November and December 1946 85938 was assigned to Naval Air Reserve Training Unit (NART). It is believed to have been a part of that unit in January 1947 as well but then in February it was stationed to NAS Norfolk, VA where it remained until May. In June TBM 85938 went back across the country to NART Los Alamitos, CA where it was stationed until August 1948. From 1948 to 1957 it is believed to have been in surplus at Litchfield Park, AZ.
In 1957 85938 was registered as tanker #61 part of the Sonora Flying Service in Columbus, CA until 1960. The Avenger took on a second life as fire bomber. It was then bought by Sierra Aviation, of Portersville, CA between 1960-1963. It was registered as N7226C and flew as tanker E44 where it became rather famous. While it was being used as a fire dumper it was painted in the traditional orange and white markings. Between 1963 and 1977, BuNo 85938, changed hands four more times. It was with Wen Inc, of Portersville, CA between 1963-1964, Whirly Birds Inc, Portersville, CA, 1966-1969, Capitol Aire Inc, Carson City, NV, 1970-1973 and Craig Aero Service, Buttonwillow, CA, 1977. It was sold to Stewart Aviation Inc. at Moses Lake, WA in 1984-1988. While it was in Washington it was converted to an agricultural sprayer and was known as 26 Charlie. This Avenger has the distinction of being the last TBM used as an agricultural sprayer.
It was then sold to Danny Summers/Summers Farm and Ranch Inc, of Sugar City, ID. It was with Danny Summer between 1990-2002 but starting in 1992 the plane was restored by John Lane at Airpower Unlimited of Jerome, ID. It was finished in 1996 and flew for the first time that year. It was flown as BuNo 85938/ 308X. It was then sold to the Texas Flying Legends Museum in 2013. On April 6th, 2013 BuNo 85938 was dedicated to former President George Herbert Walker Bush at Ellington Field, Houston, TX. President Bush flew TBM Avengers in WWII. During one mission his Avenger was hit killing his two crew mates. He had to ditch at sea and was later picked up by the submarine USS Finback. Before ditching he did successfully bomb the radio tower on Chichi Jima. A second of the prop blades is signed by the former president. During the ceremony the former President was able to watch his son and one of his grandchildren fly in the Avenger.