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Battle-Tested Avenger Wows in Warbirds

By Frederick A. Johnsen

July 25, 2019 - It's big, it's blue, and it's bad. And that's good. It is a TBM-3E Avenger torpedo bomber of World War II, parked in the Warbirds area and proudly shown by Brad and Jane Deckert of Eureka, Illinois. This Avenger comes with a combat pedigree. Accepted by the U.S. Navy on March 17, 1945, the bomber entered combat in the Pacific with Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron 234.

Flying from the aircraft carrier USS Vella Gulf, this Avenger's combat record includes sorties in the Marianas and during the grueling campaign for Okinawa. Battle repairs have been found in the structure, Brad said. This TBM survived the war and the postwar scrapper to fly on as a firefighting air tanker and a large-area sprayer in the United States and Canada. Brad said the bomber's career as a working warbird ended with spraying in the 1980s; the following decade a different owner started restoration in Colorado.

Brad bought the machine and began a never-ending search for original equipment to hang on the TBM's many hard points, shackles, and mounts. The wartime radar pod suspended from the right wing is original, as are the two gasoline drop tanks. Underwing air-to-ground rockets are nonlethal copies, and the huge torpedo bay doors open to reveal what looks like a genuine torpedo. But, Brad explained, "It doesn't weigh 2,000 pounds, and it has storage in it."

Something seldom seen in a restoration is a rear-facing camera under the left wing, aimed to track the path of a torpedo once it left the Avenger and entered the water. Surveying his festooned TBM, Brad jokingly explained that he added the torpedo camera because "I needed some more drag."

Something that was removed when this TBM fought wildfires and bug infestations is the big gun turret protecting aft approaches. That has been restored, complete with a dummy M2 .50-caliber aircraft machine gun. And ahead of the windscreen, a gun camera sits poised to record views of whatever the Avenger is attacking.

Brad calls his TBM "arguably the most complete one that exists. And we've got a long way to go." Want to make Brad's day at Oshkosh? Try showing up planeside with a set of sway braces for the underwing radar pod, something he is looking for.

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