Mishap expensive for ‘flying museum’
The aircraft that has carried the Grand Junction chapter of the Commemorative Air Force for decades is now grounded in Arizona.
The volunteers who labor to keep the TBM-3 Avenger aloft are working to raise thousands of dollars to get the plane back into the air.
The Avenger, which has become a staple at air shows around the West, was built near the end of World War II and saw duty flying searches for submarines in the Atlantic. It also flew over London as part of the Canadian Air Force for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and has been based in Grand Junction since 1985.
It had a full schedule of 17 summer air shows and members of the Rocky Mountain Wing of the Commemorative Air Force are hoping to salvage at least part of the schedule.
“We estimate it will cost about $100,000 to get our bird back in the air,” said Bob Caskey, one of several volunteers who labor to keep the Avenger airworthy in its base hangar at Grand Junction Regional Airport. “We’re hoping people will see the importance of their flying museums.”
The left landing gear of the Avenger collapsed as the plane was taxiing after three days at an air show in Arizona earlier in March.
The collapse drove the nose prop into the ground, which in turn damaged the engine. The left wing also was damaged, according to a report by Bob Duncan, who was piloting the plane when the gear collapsed.
There were no injuries.
The Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force is housing the Avenger until the Rocky Mountain Wing can arrange for the next step, Caskey said.
The wing acquired the Avenger in 1985 and volunteers from Grand Junction and western Colorado worked on it for five years, getting it back into the air in 1990.
The Grumman-made Avenger was the torpedo bomber plane that was instrumental in the U.S. victory at the Battle of Midway in the Pacific in World War II and was the type of plane flown by a young George Herbert Walker Bush, who served half a century later as the nation’s 41st president.
The Avenger is the main attraction for the Rocky Mountain Wing and is its main source of income.
At air shows, visitors can make “wing walks” across the breadth of the wing and look into the cockpit of the torpedo bomber, which was armed with four .50 caliber machine guns, two on the wings, one mounted in the rear of the cockpit and one in the belly of the plane.
The proceeds of the wing walks and sales of souvenirs provide for the fuel and parts needed to keep the Avenger in the air.
The Rocky Mountain Wing also maintains a World War II museum at the airport, but the Avenger is the key piece of the collection.
“Without the TBM, we’re not much,” Caskey said. “We’re part of the community and we need some help.”
Donations for the repairs can be made to the CAF Rocky Mountain Wing, P.O. Box 4125, Grand Junction 81501; by credit card at rmwcaf.org by pushing on the donation button, or at Alpine Bank to the account for the repair and restoration of the Grumman TBM Avenger.