Aviation Weekly

The Grumman TBF Avenger

I decided it was time to talk about the TBF Avenger, made by Grumman but was also licensed out to General Motors and it was General Motors that used the title TBM Avenger. The TBF, know by the pilots that flew it as the “turkey,” was a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps torpedo bomber that used mainly during WWII but went on to serve up through the 1960’s. The TBF was proven so effective that later it was purchased by other nations air forces. For this particular post I decided to use only photographs of the Texas Flying Legends Museum TBM Avenger in part to keep the photographic story a little more complete. There are in fact numerous Avengers still flying today.

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The Avenger was the answer to a call made by the U.S. Navy for a new torpedo bomber to replace the Douglas TBD Devastator which was introduced in 1935 and was obsolete by 1939. Several firms put in bids for the contract but Leroy Grumman won with his TBF design. Two prototypes were built and first flew August 7th, 1941 making this year the 75th anniversary of the Avenger. Despite one of the prototypes crashing, production continued. The Avenger was the first to feature a new compound angle folding wing which was designed to maximize storage space on carriers. Later planes would use the same design including the F6F Hellcat and late models of the F4F-4 Wildcat. The TBF was equipped with a Wright R-2600-20 Cyclone 14 engine. It was the heaviest single engine aircraft built during WWII and only the USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt came close in maximum weight.

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The Avenger had a crew of three: pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/rear gunner. The radio sat behind the pilot in a compartment that was accessible by a tunnel. In most planes today the radio is removed allowing for a second seat. The radioman sat in the tail/belly section with the turret gunner above him. The radioman had a .30 Caliber machine gun he could fire against enemy planes coming from behind and below. There was a .30 caliber machine gun in the nose and a .50 Caliber mounted in the turret. later models would replace the nose gun with a .50 Caliber mounted in each wing.

The bomb bay was able to hold a Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo, or a single 2,000lb bomb or four 500lb bombs. Like many other Grumman aircraft the Avenger was rugged and tough. It handled well and with a ceiling of 30,000ft and a maximum range when fully loaded of 1,000 miles, it was better then any other torpedo plane at that time, including the Japanese Nakajima B5N Kate Divebomber which had become obsolete.

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The TBF Avenger has a long history of combat missions having first drawn blood during the Battle of Midway. An order of one hundred Avengers were sent to Hawaii to join the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. However only six managed to make it before the Carriers left. These six TBF-1’s were part of Torpedo Squadron 8 which operated off of Midway island while the rest of the squadron used TBD Devastators off of the carrier USS Hornet. Of these six aircraft, five were shot down during the Battle of Midway. The sixth plane was heavily damaged and one gunner was killed, the other gunner and pilot were both injured.

This was the beginning of a long list of combats that the TBF, named the Avenger in October 1941, would be a part of. The first major victory for the TBF was during the battle of Guadalcanal in November of 1942 when on a joint mission with Marine and Navy units, they helped sink the battleship Hiei.

By 1943 Grumman started to produce more Hellcats then Avengers leaving the work to be done by the Eastern Aircraft division of General Motors who designated the plane TBM. By mid 1944 the TBM had become dash-3 models and were the most numerous built, while more dash-1’s were in service at that time. The TBM also became a terrific sub hunter with escort carriers being used to protect convoys.

Seen here is TFLM’s TBM-3E and FG-1D Corsair, the Corsair which would later be flying top cover for the Avenger, flying together as we made our to D.C for the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover last May.

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The TBM had many distinguished pilots including former president George W. Bush. Bush was the youngest naval aviator up to that point. He joined in 1943. While flying a TBM with VT-51 off of the carrier USS San Jacinto, his avenger was shot down on September 2nd, 1944. Both of his crew mates were killed and he had to ditch in the sea but managed to drop his payload on the radio tower on Chichi Jima. He was picked up by the American submarine USS Finback. TFLM’s TBM-3E Avenger is painted in honor of George W. Bush with his personal signature on one of the prop blades and a special dedication flyover at his home in 2013.

The TBF/TBM Avenger never achieved the same level of fame as some of the other single engine fighters that came out of the war but it is certainly an amazing plane with a very rich history. For the pilots that flew them they handled like a truck but it was reliable. For those, like myself, that get to fly in them today they are a spacious and comfortable way to relive a part of history.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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