Edited from a Report by Rob Duncan, TBM Avenger Maintenance Officer for the CAF Rocky Mountain Wing
Have you ever had a poorer relative drop by for a “short visit” that ended staying a full year… and beyond? This is strikingly similar a situation that the Commemorative Air Force’s Airbase Arizona is currently enduring, although it’s also a perfect demonstration of why the Airbase concept is so worthwhile. The CAF Rocky Mountain Wing’s damaged TBM-3 Avenger appeared on their tarmac back in March 2014 with a bent wing and a “few small wrinkles” in her chin and belly. Everybody was wildly optimistic for a brief repair stay – until the repair crew peeled the skins back and assessed the underlying structural damage. In many cases the damage was minor and relatively painless to fix, but others areas revealed severe problems which required major surgery. All of the problems needed straightening correctly – and “correctly” means exactly to the same standards as when TBM 309 came off the assembly line in 1945. Parts manuals and drawings are hard enough to come by, but the parts themselves were simply unavailable, anywhere… at any price. More than a year has passed since the Avenger dented her pride. The initial efforts to complete the repairs via volunteers has now been supplanted by a professional team. They are being paid through public donations which WarbirdsNews readers can contribute too by clicking HERE. Repairs are progressing with sufficient effectiveness that it now appears likely the TBM will participate in at least some of the 2015 air show season. The Rocky Mountain Wing wishes to thank contributors for their generosity, and is especially appreciative to Airbase Arizona for answering the plea for help and continuing to stand beside them. A review of the past year’s efforts follows – naming a few of those who have given so much to the wounded warbird….
Although exceptional to fly, the TBM Avenger was affectionately nicknamed the “Turkey” due to its ungainly appearance and lumbering ground-handling. Thus a corner of the Airbase Arizona maintenance hangar became the drop-off spot for “Turkey Bones” as damaged parts were removed and their replacements hand-fabricated. Airbase Arizona graciously looked the other way as the bone pile grew upon their shiny, white floor. They never complained, but were appreciative when the bone pile moved out. In addition to providing valuable shop space, Airbase Arizona members volunteered their help, especially Ray Halbe, who began with a full plate in March, 2014 that piled even higher with time. His friend, Dom Buffo, worked alongside him. Mike Kravic began helping last October, and the Rocky Mountain Wing’s own Jay Anderson left his Colorado home last March and has remained on-site ever since. Besides guiding the TBM repair efforts, Anderson also volunteered his myriad skills towards many Airbase Arizona projects. This was a heartfelt gesture of appreciation for Airbase Arizona’s hospitality. Anderson’s dog, Gator, became a friend to all, and soon had free reign in the museum hangar. Both received “thank you” flights in various Airbase Arizona aircraft, including their B-17G Sentimental Journey.
In spite of the great hospitality, the all-CAF volunteer labor proved insufficient to keep up with desired progress. In October, 2014, the TBM Maintenance Officer, Rob Duncan, contacted Dave Dawkins, (former CAF Arizona Wing Leader when Rob Duncan first joined the Wing in 1986). With no other local company choices, Dawkins suggested his son’s business, Mountain Aviation Enterprises, which was also conveniently located at Falcon Field. Joe Dawkins and his crew were willing to accept the TBM project completion task, and at a discounted rate – thus saving the Rocky Mountain Wing significant labor expenses, but the repairs will still be much more expensive than originally anticipated. Since February 2015, Mountain Aviation Enterprise’s two A&P/IA qualified employees, Grant Giocalone and Kevin Swensor, have each been working nearly solid, 40 hour, work-weeks alongside their boss. Lou Prawitz is another well-qualified and hard-working Airbase Arizona CAF volunteer putting time on the TBM. Prawitz normally works restoring aircraft for the Pima Air and Space museum in Tucson, Arizona. He drives the nearly two hour journey to work on the Avenger on his “days off”. Another of Rob Duncan’s previous TBM contacts, Mike Rawson, has recently been contracted to fabricate a new wing leading. This is a complex part with compound curves that provides the forward strength for the wing. Rawson has restored numerous WWII aircraft besides Avengers. With the new leading edge, the wing will again be structurally sound.
Fabricating new TBM parts demanded better drawings than Duncan had previously acquired, so he located a better set and negotiated a great discount. The drawings are now with the Arizona team. Although not “perfect”, the drawings are much more readable (a typical problem with the oft-copied microfilm) and have a better file layout. There are over 4,900 separate drawings and finding the one you need is still not an easy task. Many are electrical, hydraulic, or assembly documents, but finding the correct information can be like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack to the untrained eye. At this time, the major wing repair effort is mostly complete, although a few tasks remain. Most of the parts for the remaining work on the bomb bay and forward fuselage are now fabricated, but each item still needs to be hand-fitted, which is labor-intensive. The overhauled engine and propeller are ready for installation, along with new wiring looms and other items. TBM 309 will be ready for duty and in finer form for this year’s events thank to donations, volunteers, and Airbase Arizona’s help.