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Invader Brings Vintage Authenticity to AirVenture 2015

By Frederick A. Johnsen

  • A26
    The dragon head on the A-26 is a nod to the 386th Bomb Group of World War II.
  • A26
    Three flat plates extend from the A-26 when the bomb bay doors open, baffling turbulence before bomb release. Owner Tim Savage inspected the plates.
  • A26
    Silver Dragon is a single-pilot bomber -- for now. Owner Tim Savage has a dual-control kit that will be installed at the end of this season.

July 19, 2015 - It’s one thing to restore a warbird to pristine wartime condition; it’s another to leave it alone because it never lost the wartime gear. Tim Savage and his son, Job, brought their Douglas A-26 Invader bomber to AirVenture 2015 with a healthy dose of vintage gear still installed. Future restoration efforts will complete the picture, but the rugged authenticity of the bomber is already apparent.

Tim learned of the availability of the A-26 as part of the estate of the late warbird collector David Tallichet. Its postwar history includes a stint with the Nicaraguan air force starting in the 1960s, when another warbird collector traded it to that country for old fighters. Tim says the Nicaraguans kept the A-26’s bomb bay intact, with vintage racks, shackles, and other gear untouched. This is a rare find, since so many postwar “civilianized” A-26 Invaders received drastic bomb bay modifications to suit them to their new roles as fire bombers and executive transports.

The originality of this Invader becomes apparent when Tim opens the bomb bay doors to reveal original wind baffles that extend into the slipstream to enhance the action of the bombs as they fall. A look inside the bay shows replica bombs hanging from the shackles.

This isn’t your father’s executive A-26.

Tim is patient in his plans for the A-26. After the 2015 air show season, it will be delivered to John Lane’s award-winning warbird restoration shop in Idaho where dual controls will be installed in the cockpit and replica .50-caliber machine guns will once again sprout from the nose. In future off-seasons, operational General Electric power gun turrets will be re-introduced to this airframe.

Tim previously owned a B-25J when Job was much smaller. After selling the B-25, Tim perceived a sense of lost opportunity for Job. Tim found the A-26 and bought it as a family project. He kept it a secret from Job until the day it arrived. Job mans a table offering custom T-shirts and souvenirs for sale at plane-side. His entrepreneurial spirit is a family trait; Tim is growing his successful computer consulting business along with mentoring and supporting young entrepreneurs from his location in Huntington, Indiana.

Tim also brings a sense of balance to his latest warbird project. He says he may only make three or so air shows each season. This has dual effects—it keeps the bomber from becoming an obsession that intrudes on family time, while the leisurely schedule ensures the plane and its systems will not wear out any time soon. Nonetheless, just to ensure parts are available, Tim says he hunts for Invader parts. “I’ve been buying everything I can find.”

Tim’s Invader is full of surprises. While many A-26s received spar modifications that involved reinforcing the carry-through structure in the fuselage, Tim’s Silver Dragon has barely visible external straps running along the undersurfaces of the wing. Research indicates the U.S. Air Force did this modification at Panama for some Central American air forces; Silver Dragon may be the only flying Invader with this adaptation. Tim satisfies FAA requirements to inspect the wing structure with an alternative method of compliance (AMOC) that includes dye checking to ensure cracks are not propagating.

Talking with Tim, one gets a sense of his patient passion for this sometimes-overlooked World War II bomber. While many were converted for civilian use in the decades following the war, Tim says he can only count about a dozen flying examples today, with others slumbering in static displays or storage. When he first inspected this bomber, which he has nicknamed Silver Dragon, he was impressed with its largely unmodified nature. The airframe called out for preservation and restoration. “I feel an obligation to do that,” he says, because this Invader is one of the few that wasn’t severely modified as a surplus opportunity. “I like to take old things and make them new,” he says.

Nor is he impatient to get type-certificated as a pilot in his new bomber. After the dual controls are installed, he will begin the process of learning the A-26’s handling traits with a qualified pilot in the other seat. “I don’t feel the ego pressure to quickly fly a plane that I own,” Tim says. “It may take me a couple years to feel comfortable in the airplane.”

The colorful dragon face on the nose of Tim Savage’s A-26 is scarcely a week old. But the bomber itself bridges seven decades. It’s worth a look in the Warbirds area at AirVenture 2015.

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