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The Rocky Mountain Wing's TBM Avenger History

Our TBM Avenger BuNo 53503 original logbooks show that it was accepted by the US Navy on June 1, 1945 at the Norfolk NAS and assigned to the VT-75 Squadron - the "Fish Hawks". It was transferred in 1947 to VT-82 Squadron - the "Devil's Diplomats" and Naval Air Reserve Training at Los Alamitos in southern California.

Per Bryan Hayter, RCN pilot who flew our actual TBM Avenger in 1953 (his logbook pages are in our museum):

826 Squadron was reactivated in 1947 with the Fairey Firefly Mark 1, later Mark IV's, and finally Mark V's. The RCN did not find the Firefly was truly suitable for anti-submarine warfare or night and day carrier operations Besides they cost $80,000.00 each! In April of 1950, the 826 Squadron personnel were delighted to learn that the U.S. government was offering the R.C.N. 75 Grumman Avengers to eventually replace all the Fireflies of 826 Squadron. This offer was approved by Cabinet and the aircraft were ferried to Canada. They all still had the rear turrets intact and cost only $5,000.00 each. They were modified for their Canadian anti-submarine role by removing the rear turret and adding submarine and electronic detection gear.

The crews really loved these "new"aircraft and they proved to be so superior to the Firefly that the R.C.N. negotiated the further purchase of 50 more Avengers at $9,500.00 each. In May of 1951, all Squadrons were renumbered and 826 Squadron became 881 Squadron. The aircraft were repainted and had side numbers instead of huge letters.

I came on the Avenger scene in Dec. 1952 after completing my operational flying training on Fireflies with the Royal Navy. I must say I really took to the Avenger almost immediately and particularly after I successfully completed my carrier qualification landings. It was so much easier with the Avenger particularly at night on our very small carrier. It was rugged, dependable and a joy to fly from the carrier.

Per the above history, our TBM was sold to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1950 with only 546 total hours flown. As with many other American aircraft, the Canadians renamed the the Avenger type to become the Tarpon during WWII. Our aircraft was part of 125 TBMs to be converted by the Fairey Aviation Company of Canada, Ltd. to "modern" anti-submarine warfare roles. These aircraft received an extensive number of ASW modifications, including improved radar, electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment, and sonobuoys. The modified Avengers were then re-designated AS-3. The upper ball turret was replaced with a sloping glass canopy (seen above) that was better suited for observation duties. The observer was thus seated facing forward.

TBM 53503 flew in the RCN 881 Squadron from the carrier HMCS Magnificent and marked as sub hunter "ABK", "AB*P" and later "315" as their numbering system changed over her years of duty. She also flew in this role the day of the flypast for the newly coronated Queen Elizabeth II's Royal Navy Review at Spithead on June 16, 1953. That fall, our TBM was nearly lost at sea along with 42 other aircraft that were launched but were unable to recover due to unanticipated fog. RCN pilot Bryan Hayter was flying "315" on this nearly disastrous mission and shares this brief, well written and illustrated story [Blind Faith - A Magnificent Miracle at Sea]. TBM 53503 is later documented as being Struck Off Charge on January 1, 1958.

After her RCN military career ended in 1958, TBM 53503 was an aerial insecticide applicator from 1963 to 1970 for the Simsbury Flying Service in Simsbury, CT as N6583D. Acquired by the CAF in 1970 where she was painted as VT-10's "white 82" with a tri-color Navy scheme for the CV-10 Yorktown, but still lacked the characteristic dorsal gun turret. She flew with the CAF Ghost Squadron until 1981 in this configuration. During this time, her movie debut can be seen in the first five minutes of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind as directed by Steven Spielburg - hint: she is the one whose engine runs!

From 1981 until mid-1985, the Avenger sat outside in Arizona waiting for her next duty assignment and in desperate need of repair and maintenance on various systems. A new CAF Unit, the "Rocky Mountain Squadron", was formed in Grand Junction Colorado in 1981. This unit petitioned CAF headquarters for the TBM's reassignment to them in 1984. On January 17, 1985 TBM 53503 was officially assigned to the new squadron. She was flown on a ferry permit from Mesa, Arizona to Grand Junction, Colorado in that February to begin an extensive restoration lasting over four years.

By July of 1989, she was once again "ready for duty" - complete with the installation of the dorsal gun turret, and a new paint scheme - that of a TBM assigned to VT-84, also known as the "Wolf Gang" squadron, aboard the USS Bunker Hill, CV-17. This squadron was the first to attack Tokyo on February 16 & 17, 1945 and the colorful yellow cowling was adopted to enhance identification as "friendly" when returning to the fleet from their raid.

Her first CAF AIRSHO was in Harlingen, Texas in 1990, and since has been on the air show circuit promoting the goals on objectives of the CAF. The Rocky Mountain Squadron grew to obtain official CAF "Wing" status.

Rocky Mountain Wing of the Commemorative Air Force
Hangar Location
780 Heritage Way
Grand Junction, CO 81506
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P.O. Box 4125
Grand Junction, CO 81501
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