Grumman’s TBF attacked the enemy throughout the pacific, but it could­ also be a lifesaver.

“You could see the flames going down where the wings folded on the TBF, and I knew I was in serious trouble.” That is how one young lieutenant (junior grade) described his situation after taking fire during a bombing run against a land target in the South Pacific during World War II.

While designed as a torpedo bomber, the Grumman TBF Avenger would end up playing several roles during and after the war thanks to its range, speed, and payload capacity. Grumman won the U.S. Navy competition for an all-new torpedo bomber shortly before the United States entered the war—with the order for the first 268 aircraft placed just two weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Along with range and speed improvements over its predecessor—the Douglas TBD—the Avenger had an electrically driven rear turret that was more responsive and reliable than the hydraulic and manual ones that had been tried in earlier airplanes. The turret-gunner, pilot, and bombardier-radio operator made up the three-person crew.

The Grumman TBF-1 Avenger at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber Facility in Maryland.

The Museum’s TBF-1—Bureau of Aeronautics Number 24085—was delivered to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in 1943 and used first as a training aircraft. Its remaining wartime record is not clear, but 24085 was returned to the U.S. Navy at war’s end. The Museum’s Avenger still retains a modification from its British past: bulging observer’s windows. Mysteriously, 24085 has mismatched wings: port from a TBM-1C and starboard from a TBM-3J.

What happened to the pilot with the flaming wings is much better known. Regrettably, his two crewmates did not survive the mission, but after bailing out, he was picked up by a U.S. submarine, and would go on to be the 41st president of the United States.

Related Topics Aviation Aircraft Military aviation World War II
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