Dick Maddock has spent more than 616 hours volunteering for the Rocky Mountain Wing Commemorative Air Force at the former Walker Field. Many of those hours were spent working on this TBM Avenger torpedo bomber.
You can see the TBM Avenger in the opening scene of the 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Among several of the WWII airplanes, the one now on display at the Commemorative Air Force Rocky Mountain Wing Museum is the one with its engine running.
The warbird has enjoyed a fascinating history already, but the vintage aircraft just made history again. It is one of two aircraft in the U.S. to have earned a historical distinction. A party Saturday at the museum near the Grand Junction Regional Airport celebrated its inclusion into the Colorado State Register of Historical Properties.
Breathing life back into the aircraft that flies today has been “a monumental task,” said Rich Conner, one of about 100 volunteer members of the TBM crew who has worked to restore the aircraft. The Avenger has been part of the Rocky Mountain Wing Commemorative Air Force since 1985 and volunteers worked until 1989 to get the plane operational again.
The Avenger was on display Saturday at the museum’s hangar and open to the public. Some folks sat in the cockpit or the seat behind the pilot and checked out the area for the gunner.
Historically, the aircraft held space for three: one pilot, a gunner and another in the belly of the aircraft.
Connor thinks about things like this when he’s been on some 40 flights in the plane. The cockpit is not comfy for a four-hour flight, and it certainly wouldn’t have been pleasant on 10-hour search missions for young pilots who went seeking the enemy off aircraft carriers.
“They went out in any kind of weather, without GPS coming back to aircraft carriers that were probably in a different place,” Connor said.
He said there are 16 remaining TBMs in existence. The aircraft is called “the turkey” for the unique way its wings fold nearly vertically when coming in for a landing.
Kent Taylor, wing leader for Rocky Mountain CAF, said earning the historical designation took tenacious work and more than two years of volunteer effort. Having the status will enable the group to apply for grant funding. Taylor said the group will be starting a campaign to raise $300,000 in the hopes of expanding the museum, operating out of bigger hangar space.
The museum is a good way for young and old to connect through aviation, especially as the U.S. is facing a pilot shortage, said Jodi Doney, spokeswoman for the Grand Junction Regional Airport.
“This inspires people to get into aviation and keep the story alive,” she said. “Very few airports have museums like this. This touches all age groups.”
The Avenger is on display at the museum, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday, or by appointment. The museum also has a Piper J-3, called a Grasshopper. The aircraft represent the largest and smallest single-engine aircraft used by American forces in WWII.
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