Grumman TBF Avenger

The Grumman TBF Avenger was one of the great single-engined attack aircraft ever built, and was certainly the outstanding carrier-based attack bomber of the Second World War.  First flown August 7, 1941, it entered service within less than a year and rapidly proved itself to be what the U.S. Navy needed in an attack aircraft.  It was tough, versatile, easy to fly and maintain, and could fly from even the small decks of the U.S. “escort” carriers – converted freighter hulls with minimal armor and armament.  The Avenger was primarily designed as a torpedo bomber but its large weapons bay and capability to handle ordnance on its wings made it adaptable to level bombing, dive bombing and rocket attacks.  Many of the 9,389 Avengers built served long after World War II as anti-submarine patrol aircraft, search and rescue aircraft and airborne early warning platforms.  Passing into civilian life, Avengers were used as crop sprayers and fire suppression aircraft, the last few still in service in the 2010s.  Avengers served after the war with the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Uruguay and Cuba.

Avengers participated in all major naval engagements of the U.S. Navy starting from the Battle of Midway.  The vast majority of Avengers built were built by the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors so that Grumman could concentrate on fighters.  The GM-built Avengers were designated TBMs (M being the suffix for GM in the Navy’s system whereas F stood for Grumman) and thus the Avenger is better known today as the TBM rather than the TBF.  Among the better known Avenger pilots was George H. W. Bush, who was elected President of the U.S. in 1988.  During Bush’s campaign and presidency, several restored avengers were painted in the markings of Bush’s aircraft, and the type enjoyed even greater popularity with airshow audiences.

The Avenger’s late retirement, usefulness in postwar life, and great historical importance all contributed to the large number that survive today.  At least 100 Avengers are airworthy in the United States, with a few also flying in other countries and dozens more in museums around the globe.

TBM-1 24803

This rare early-model GM-built Avenger is displayed in the hangar deck of the Intrepid Museum.  It is on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum.

TBM-3 53119

Avenger N33BM has been with the same owner, Texas collector Wilson Edwards, since 1974.  In the 1950s it served with the Royal Canadian Navy.

TBM-3S 53139

After serving with the U.S. Navy, this Avenger was passed to the Royal Canadian Navy where it served as an Avenger AS.3.  Its next career, starting in the late 1950s, was as a firefighting tanker registered CF-IMN with several operators on Canada’s west coast, and then New Brunswick, until 1994.  The aircraft was fully and beautifully restored to U.S. Navy configuration and is now owned by the Historic Flight Foundation.

TBM-3 53454

The Military Aviation Museum owns and flies TBM N7030C.  A firefighting tanker from the 1960s to the 1980s, this plane has been airworthy as a warbird since the late 1990s.  MAM have painted it in an oddly neutral-gray version of the standard USN blue-gray over gray color scheme. 

TBM-3E 53638

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum maintains N109K in beautiful condition, with accurate finish and under-wing armament.  The Avenger is marked in the colors of Torpedo Squadron 23 aboard the USS Langley. 

TBM-3U 53835 “She’s the Boss”

N3967A is a former sprayer maintained by an Arizona owner and based, during the warm months, at the Westchester County airport in Harrison, New York.  Nit-pickers could find several faults with this paint scheme, from the nose art to the incorrectly constructed U.S. insignia to the “Navy” titles which were not used with this paint scheme, but the plane is a welcome addition to the sparse warbird scene in the greater New York area since it arrived in 2013. 

TBM-3E 53914

The Quonset Air Museum‘s TBM was recovered in 1991 from a Maine crash site where it had been left since a 1972 accident while engaged in spraying work.  The aircraft had been registered CF-BQS and N7029C. 

TBM-3E 69374

Stationed in San Diego during World War II, this Avenger then fought fires in California as N9650C.  Now restored as one of the heroic defenders of the Taffy 3 task force in the Battle of Samar, specifically Thomas Lupo’s plane from the USS Fanshaw Bay, the plane is now displayed at the National World War II Museum

TBM-3E 85828

This Avenger served late in World War II with U.S. Marine torpedo bombing squadron VMTB-324 aboard the USS Vella Gulf, a small escort carrier, during the Okinawa campaign.  No details are known of the aircraft’s flying activities during this time, but the Vella Gulf did launch strikes on two days, July 24 and 27, 1945, that included Avengers; so this machine may, in a small way, have seen combat.  After disposal from the Navy in 1956, it served as an air tanker in the U.S. and Canada, registered N7002C and C-GOBJ.  Today it is registered N81865 with TBM Inc. of Illinois, who have it restored in the markings of its wartime unit. 

TBM-3E 85938

Texas Flying Legends has its TBM, N7226C, restored in its original wartime markings from when it served aboard the carrier USS Wasp. 

TBM-3E 91264

Planes of Fame and its predecessors have operated this TBM continuously since 1958.  Unusually for a TBM, it was obtained directly from the Navy and has never been converted to a crop sprayer or fire tanker, so there has been less modification and flying stress placed on the airframe over the years than is typical for a preserved TBM.  It has had several paint schemes over the years, some of which are shown in these photos. 

TBM-3E 91426 “Doris Mae”

The Commemorative Air Force‘s TBM, N40402, served as a trainer during World War II and went to the Royal Canadian Navy during the 1950s.  After a long career as a sprayer it was acquired by the CAF in 2001.  Its long-term restoration was completed in 2014.  It is finished as a Marine aircraft with VMTB-143, assigned to the escort carrier USS Gilbert Islands late in World War II.  As of 2015 it is based in Virginia with CAF’s National Capitol Squadron.

TBM-3E 91456

The Ohio-based TBM of Charles Cartledge won the prestigious World War II Grand Champion Warbird prize at Oshkosh in its debut year of 2014.  Like any winner of that award, N436GM is meticulously restored with a fully stock interior.  A fully dressed mannequin is even posed in the gunner’s turret for added realism. 

Modeling Notes (with links to targeted eBay searches):  Numerous good Avenger kits have been issued, although it can be a challenge to model the General Motors TBM-3 variant, as most manufacturers have chosen to depict the earliest TBF-1 versions that fought at Midway rather than the much more numerous versions that served late in World War II and for many years after.  In 1/72 scale, Hasegawa and Academy both make good TBF-1s, with your choice mainly depending on whose style of detail you prefer.  In 1/48, Accurate Miniatures set the standard with its 1990s release, blowing away earlier Lindberg and Monogram kits that are now not worth the trouble.  Then in 2009, Hobby Boss trumped AM with an even better kit created by scaling down the tooling for Trumpeter‘s excellent 1/32 scale Avenger.  In 1/144 scale, Minicraft make an Avenger of indifferent quality.


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