This impressive Grumman TBM-3E Avenger is based at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, Long Island, NY. The museum is located at the Republic Airport.
The Avenger entered U.S. service in 1942, and first saw action during the Battle of Midway. Despite the loss of five of the six Avengers on its combat debut, it survived in service to become one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II. Greatly modified after the war, it remained in use until the 1960s. Grumman’s first torpedo bomber was the heaviest single-engined aircraft of World War II, and only the USAAF’s P-47 Thunderbolt came close to equaling it in maximum loaded weight among all single-engine fighters, being only some 400 lb (181 kg) lighter than the TBF, by the end of World War II.
To ease carrier storage concerns, simultaneously with the F4F-4 model of its Wildcat carrier fighter, Grumman designed the Avenger to also use the new Sto-Wing patented “compound angle” wing-folding mechanism, intended to maximize storage space on an aircraft carrier; the Wildcat’s replacement the F6F Hellcat also employed this mechanism. The engine used was the powerful, twin-row Wright R-2600-20 Twin Cyclone fourteen-cylinder radial engine, which produced 1,900 hp. The aircraft took 25 gallons of oil and used one gallon per minute at start-up.
The Avenger had three crew members: pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/ventral gunner. A single synchronized .30 caliber machine gun was mounted in the nose, a .50 caliber gun was mounted right next to the turret gunner’s head in a rear-facing electrically powered turret, and a single .30 caliber hand-fired machine gun flexibly-mounted ventrally (under the tail), which was used to defend against enemy fighters attacking from below and to the rear. This gun was fired by the radioman/bombardier while standing up and bending over in the belly of the tail section, though he usually sat on a folding bench facing forward to operate the radio and to sight in bombing runs.
Later models of the TBF/TBM omitted the cowl-mount synchronized .30-calibre gun; for twin Browning AN/M2 light-barrel .50 caliber guns, one per each wing outboard of the propeller arc per pilots’ requests, for better forward firepower and increased strafing ability. There was only one set of controls on the aircraft, and no direct access to the pilot’s position existed from the rest of the aircraft’s interior. The radio equipment was massive, especially by today’s standards, and filled the length of the well-framed “greenhouse” canopy to the rear of the pilot. The radios were accessible for repair through a “tunnel” along the right hand side. Any Avengers that are still flying today usually have an additional rear-mounted seat in place of the radios, allowing for a fourth passenger.
The Avenger had a large bomb bay, allowing for one Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 torpedo, a single 2,000 pound bomb, or up to four 500 pound bombs. The aircraft had overall ruggedness and stability, and pilots say it flew like a truck, for better or worse. With its good radio facilities, docile handling, and long range, the Grumman Avenger also made an ideal command aircraft for Commanders, Air Group (CAGs). With a 30,000ft., ceiling and a fully loaded range of 1,000 miles, it was better than any previous American torpedo bomber, and better than its Japanese counterpart, the obsolete Nakajima B5N “Kate”. Later Avenger models carried radar equipment for the ASW and AEW roles.
Besides the traditional surface role (torpedoing surface ships), Avengers claimed about 30 submarine kills, including the cargo submarine I-52. They were one of the most effective sub-killers in the Pacific theatre, as well as in the Atlantic, when escort carriers were finally available to escort Allied convoys. There, the Avengers contributed to the warding off of German U-Boats while providing air cover for the convoys.
Escort carrier sailors referred to the TBF as the “turkey” because of its size and maneuverability in comparison to the F4F Wildcat fighters in CVE air groups.
In June 1943, future-President George H. W. Bush was commissioned as the youngest naval aviator at the time. Later, while flying a TBM with VT-51 (from San Jacinto), his Avenger was shot down on 2 September 1944 over the Pacific island of Chichi Jima. However, he released his payload and hit the radio tower target before being forced to bail out over water. Both of his crewmates died. He was rescued at sea by the American submarine Finback. He later received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Another famous Avenger aviator was Paul Newman, who flew as a rear gunner. He had hoped to be accepted for pilot training, but did not qualify because he was color blind.
Length: 40 ft 11.5 in.
Wingspan: 54 ft 2 in.
Height: 15 ft 5 in.
Wing area: 490.02 ft².
Empty weight: 10,545 lb.
Loaded weight: 17,893 lb.
Power: 1 × Wright R-2600-20 Twin Cyclone radial engine, 1,900 hp
Maximum speed: 275 mph
Range: 1,000 mi.
Service ceiling: 30,100 ft.
Rate of climb: 2,060 ft/min.
Power/mass: 0.11 hp/lb.
Aircraft photos courtesy of the American Airpower Museum