Following a three-year restoration project, the Commemorative Air Force Grumman/General Motors TBM-3S, BuNo 91426, will soon make its first post-restoration flight in Hagerstown, Maryland.
The machine has been with the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) since 1998 when the now-defunct Stars and Stripes Squadron of Frederick, Maryland, purchased the craft from Forest Protection Ltd, of New Brunswick, Canada who had been using the craft for aerial fire-fighting duties.
The plane was stored without any substantive work being performed towards restoration until 2009 when the CAF’s National Capital Squadron in Culpeper, Virginia, acquired it and the extensive restoration project was organized.
The CAF worked out a deal with Second World War radio operator Jack Kosko to do the majority of the airframe restoration work in a workshop on his farm in Airville, Pennsylvania. Kosko, who is now in his late 80s, served on Avengers in the Pacific Theatre during the closing stages of the war. Many of the other volunteers who worked on the airplane are also WW2 veterans with an average age of nearly 80.
This is the second TBM that Kosko’s team has restored to flight. The first was TBM-3S BuNo 53638, which took seven years to complete, and is now at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, Pennsylvania. The most complex part of the latest restoration involved returning the rear fuselage to stock TBM factory finish, complete with an overhauled turret as the plane had been extensively modified for fire-fighting duty by its previous owners.
In early December, Kosko’s team trucked the bomber’s fuselage 100 miles from the workshop to the airport in Hagerstown, Maryland for reassembly and final detailing. The wings were scheduled to be joined to the fuselage by the end of January, and then systems, avionics and engine tests will begin before the first flight, which is scheduled for a month or so later. Once it is fully airworthy, the TBM will then fly the short hop to Culpepper, Virginia, and should join the air show circuit with its CAF stablemates soon thereafter.