A TBM Avenger, a World War II torpedo bomber like the one once flown by former President George H. W. Bush, has joined the collection of rare and vintage aircraft at Fantasy of Flight near Polk City, Florida. Fantasy of Flight founder Kermit Weeks piloted the nearly 70-year-old aircraft on its flight from Miami, where it had been stored at Weeks’ former aircraft museum there.
The TBM is the model that President George H. W. Bush was shot down in while flying a mission over the Pacific island of Chichi Jima in June of 1943. During Bush’s vice presidential campaign, Weeks had the plane repainted in Bush’s colors and was asked to fly it to one of the campaign stops. Upon seeing the old beauty that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bush reportedly ran from his commercial jet to the TBM and hopped into the cockpit. The late Paul Newman also flew in a TBM as a rear gunner.
“It feels great to have the TBM in Polk City along with the rest of the collection,” said Weeks. “This bomber played a major role in the victory of World War II and helps to tell the story of the Allies’ win in ways that history books simply cannot. It’s truly a tangible piece of American history.”
The TBM, the high-volume production version of the original Grumman TBF, was built by the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors beginning in 1943. Designed for use on aircraft carriers, the TBM featured hydraulically folded wings and held three crew members: the pilot, turret gunner and radioman/bombardier/ventral gunner. With a large bomb bay, the TBM could carry a single 2,000-pound bomb or four 500-pound bombs.
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