Sixth Annual TBM Avenger Reunion Delivers Despite Bad Weather

by Greg Morehead

Despite the irreverence of Mother Nature, which forced the cancellation of Saturday’s events, the Sixth Annual TBM Reunion and Salute to Veterans was largely successful. Thursday provided many opportunities for patient observers to capture photos of warbird arrivals, followed by a Friday full of flying, food, and friends. After each trip airborne churned the winds around the pattern, the molecules barely had a chance to rest before another warbird beat them up again. The reputation among the warbird flying community of this little gem providing a low key venue with great people, great food, and cheap gas, attracted some much appreciated warbirds in addition to the attending TBMs, and these included:

  • Aeroshell Aerobatic Team: Mark Henley, lead; Steve Gustafson, left wing; Bryan Regan, right wing; Jimmy Fordham, slot
  • B-25J Mitchell (45-8898) – Tri-State Warbird Museum, flown by Scott Durkee and Mike Durkee
  • F4U-4 Corsair (Bu.97388) – Wings of the North Air Museum, flown by John Sinclair
  • PBV-1A Canso A (RCAF 11074) – John O’Connor, flown by Jayson Owen, Sean Renolds, and John O’Connor
  • Dakota Mk.III (KG668) – Jordan and Niki Brown
  • C-45H Expeditor (51-11835) – Jordan and Niki Brown, flown by Ray Brown
  • CT-133 Mk.IV Silver Star (RCAF 21579) – Paul Keppeler
  • CT-133 Mk.III Silver Star (RCAF 21556)- Steve Jones/Kathryn Tyler
  • T-37C Tweet (66-13618) – Jim Allen, flown by Carl Schwerman
  • F-5A Freedom Fighter (68-9108) – Jeff Kaney, operated out of Rockford, Illinois
  • T-6 Texans: Tim and Mike Gillian, JP Mellor, Laura Stants, Mike Hahn, John O’Connor, Doug Partl

Three of the jet warbirds landed on the field, including two T-33s and a T-37, while Jeff Kaney flew the F-5 out of Rockford due to the minimum runway length his fast-mover requires. Tweet pilot Carl Schwerman recalled launching on Friday with Paul Keppeler in his T-33. The two joined up for some flying, then when Kaney arrived in the F-5, Schwerman bowed out and let the two speedsters do some formation work before landing.

New to the annual event, the world-renowned Aeroshell Aerobatic Team also took part.  Many people in this predominantly rural region of Illinois have likely never seen such an amazing display of airmanship that these four pilots can achieve in their AT-6 Texans. It is fair to claim that the Aeroshell team’s evening performance was the highlight of the weekend and a memory many will recall vividly for decades to come… “Do you remember the year the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team came to the airport and flew in formation at night?” Those Illinois “Yankees” who had the opportunity to meet and speak with anyone from the team were certainly taken with the southern accent and charm, which team members are known for. They are simply some of the nicest, most welcoming pilots ever to promote aviation. Jimmy Fordham, one of the team members, has a particular fondness for humor, as came to light on the Friday while he was working on his T-6. A fellow from one of the TBMs noticed Fordham toiling away, and offered his services to the tall slot pilot. But Jimmy just smiled and held up a handful of zip ties while playfully quipping, “No thanks. I think I have it covered!”


While the TBM Reunion included some of the most experienced pilots in the warbird community, it also provided an opportunity for fledgling aviators to mingle. In an industry dominated by older, highly-seasoned pilots, there remains an ever-present welcome to younger generations who aspire to fly warbirds. Some of these ‘young eagles’ are children of current warbird pilots.  Indeed Tim Savage’s son, Job, recently completed his rotory wing flight program and Tim proudly sat next to him for his first helicopter flight as a Commercial Helicopter Pilot. Nikki and Jordan Brown’s son, Ray, recently became a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and fellow young aviator Lyle Jafson is also a CFI. And warbird newcomer, Kaylee Allen, had recently soloed and was days away from her check ride to become a newly-minted Private Pilot. Together, these young flyers fed from the smorgasbord of motivation that a ramp full of vintage airplanes offers.

Left to right: Lyle Jefson, Ray Brown, Job Savage and Kaylee Allen

Those who consume content from the online streaming service Hulu might have enjoyed the recent six-part miniseries Catch 22, based upon Joseph Heller’s magnificent 1961 novel describing the experiences of a fictional B-25 Mitchell unit fighting in the Italian campaign. One of the Mitchell’s which played a role in this dark comedy, the Tri-State Warbird Museum‘s B-25J  attended the TBM Reunion. While she has long-flown as Axis Nightmare, she became Yankee Doodle for Catch-22, and still bears these markings. The paint is a water soluble finish, and likely won’t last much longer, so those who had the chance to see Yankee Doodle in Peru were lucky to have an up-close look at the plane made famous by Hollywood.

Any aviation event which wants to keep the sky busy with warbirds to keep visitors looking skyward and to motivate others to drive to the airport and take part, needs to include a few ride program aircraft to their event planning. And the TBM Reunion followed these guidelines, with a few of the Avengers offering rides, not to mention the T-6s operated by Laura Stants from Kokomo and J.P. Mellor of Terre Haute; they were flying non-stop all afternoon.

While Friday offered lots of flying for most, the TBM Reunion’s founders, Brad and Jane Deckert, weren’t able to do so this year  much to their frustration, because their combat-veteran TBM-3E Avenger (Bu85632) is currently awaiting the installation of a new engine. However, Deckert’s crew had just picked up their freshly-rebuilt Curtiss-Wright R-2600 and took the opportunity to display the airplane on the ramp, with its old engine removed and the replacement unit sitting beside it; spectators marveled at getting a close look at the big round engines, which are normally hidden from view eight feet up in the air and mainly covered with cowlings.

Brand Deckert and his wife Jane rode the ramp in a four-wheeler all weekend instead of where they would have preferred to be – in their TBM. The Deckerts are the founders of the TBM Reunion, which they have continued to build upon each year with support from the local government and the FBO managed by Chuck Studer.

Sadly, rain forced the cancellation of flying events on the Saturday, which was painful for many because the Salute to Veterans has become one of the best opportunities for many to thank those in their community who have served in the Armed Forces.  Although the big Veterans Parade didn’t take place, there was a moving military ceremony accompanied by a missing man formation which was perfectly timed to a haunting rendition of the Last Post, over the loudspeakers. Four TBMs started their big R-2600 radial engines, unfolded their wings, and taxied out under light drizzle to take off and join up for the iconic representation of the men who aren’t coming home – those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Taking part in the special flight were Gary Applebaum flying the Wings of the North Air Museum’s TBM-3E (Bu.53818), J.P. Mellor flying the CAF Missouri Wing’s TBM-3E (Bu.53353), Rick Siegfried flying Tim Savage’s TBM-3E (Bu.91521), and Casey Roszell flying John Mosley’s TBM-3E (Bu.91726).

What started as a TBM Reunion, ended as a TBM Reunion. On Saturday afternoon, the Avenger pilots took part in a TBM Forum, an opportunity for operators of such rare and complex airplanes to discuss their ideas and experiences. This face-to-face approach to sharing knowledge is invaluable and when asked about the topics discussed, Rick Siegfried said it was scary in a way, but stressed the positive effects from the discussion.

As the last TBMs were departing on a perfect, dry Sunday morning, Daniel Mosley began to taxi his TBM but noticed something awry, so he shut down the airplane and climbed down to make an inspection. As is always the case with the TBM family, Daniel was met by friends, including Charlie Cartledge, Brad Deckert, and others, who helped remove engine panels to find the problem. Daniel smiled and said, “It seems almost every year one TBM stays here and I guess this year it’s my turn.” When you operate a TBM, you’re prepared for the unexpected. That is partially due to experience-based conditioning, but also thanks to the opportunity to share ideas and learn from others in the TBM world.

Nine TBM Avengers attended this year’s TBM Reunion, and they were as follows:

Owner Aircraft Pilot(s)
Brad Deckert TBM-3E Bu.85632 (static) Brad Deckert
CAF Capital Wing TBM-3E Bu.91426 Tom Malone
CAF Missouri Wing TBM-3 Bu.53353 JP Mellor
Charles Lynch  TBM-3 Bu.53835
Matt Kopp
Wings of the North Air Museum TBM-3E Bu.85882 Michael Kopp, Matt Cooper
Tri-State Warbird Museum TBM- 3 Bu.53420 Greg Vallero
Charles Cartledge TBM-3 Bu.91436 Charlie Cartledge
Tim Savage TBM-3E Bu.91521 Rick Siegfried, John Lane, Tim Savage
John Mosley TBM-3E Bu.91726 Daniel Mosley, Paul Barnett

Many thanks indeed to Greg Morehead for his marvelous article and images, and to Alan Barbor for his images too!

1 Comment

  1. My son and I have made them all including, the Covid cancelled 5th reunion in 2020 (we were still out at Peru Airport plane spotting on what would have been show day). We look forward to the event growing and going on for many years to come.

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