POLK CITY, FL – Fantasy of Flight founder and creator Kermit Weeks piloted the nearly 70-year-old TBM "Avenger" World War II Torpedo Bomber aircraft in a 75-minute flight at a speed of 165 knots from Miami, where it was being stored at Weeks' former aircraft museum, to the rare and vintage aircraft collection at Fantasy of Flight. Wings Over Miami assumed the museum's operation in July 2003. The TBM plane was the last flyable piece of Week's collection being stored there.
The TBM is the same model that President George H. W. Bush Sr. flew and was shot down in while flying a mission over the Pacific Island of Chichi Jima in June 1943. During Bush's vice presidential campaign, Weeks had the plane repainted in Bush's colors and was asked to bring it to one of the Republican campaign stops. Upon seeing the aircraft that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bush reportedly ran from his commercial jet to the TBM and promptly hopped into the cockpit. The late Paul Newman also flew in a TBM as a rear gunner.
"It feels great to have the TBM Avenger home in Polk City along with the rest of the collection," says 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 Avenger, a later reincarnation of the original Grumman TBF, was developed by the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors beginning in 1943. Designed for use on aircraft carriers, the TBM featured hydraulic folding 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.
Now that the TBM has joined the rest of Weeks' collection at Fantasy of Flight, it will most likely join the rotation of planes used for daily flight demonstrations. It will also be included in the attraction's next "Open Cockpit Days," June 20 and 21, in which guests get to climb aboard rare and historic aircraft. The TBM will be available with two other naval aircraft including the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat and the Corsair for the Open Cockpit Days that are part of Fantasy of Flight's Father's Day weekend.