by Richard Mallory Allnutt
The team at Fagen Fighters Restoration never seems to slow down. With the airworthy resurrection of Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver BuNo.83393 fast approaching its conclusion, another WWII-era U.S. Navy warbird project may soon take its place in their workshop, this being TBM-3S Avenger BuNo.85597. This Avenger is the second example which the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum has acquired. It arrived from Carson City, Nevada on the back of a low-loader this past Saturday, whereupon it was soon unloaded and guided into a hangar to await its turn in the restoration queue. Given the push to get the Helldiver ready for EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this coming July, it’s quite possible that space will free up to allow the Avenger to receive some TLC later this year, although no firm decisions have been posted on this front as of yet.
Rolling off the final assembly line at General Motors’ Eastern Aircraft Division plant in Trenton, New Jersey during 1945, this TBM arrived too late to see service in WWII. In 1952, following a period of storage, BuNo.85597 made the journey north to join the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), one of 125 Avengers to do so. The aircraft underwent conversion into an AS.3 anti-submarine variant with Fairey Aviation of Canada, and served with both VS 880 and 881 in the RCN, based principally at HCMS Shearwater near Halifax, Nova Scotia but also deployed, at times, aboard the carriers HMCS Magnificent and later, Bonaventure.
Following the end of the Avenger’s military service, the Canadian government sold on the bulk of their surviving Avenger fleet to the civilian market. A good number of these airframes ended up as aerial sprayers and water bombers, and so it was with 85597, which took up the civil registration CF-IMK with Skyway Air Services Ltd in Langley, British Columbia during January, 1958. Here the Avenger served as fire tanker #602, keeping this number (and registration) following its move to Conair Aviation Ltd in Abbottsford, BC in 1969.
In August 1977, Forest Protection Ltd (FPL) acquired the TBM (along with Conair’s remaining Avenger inventory), moving it to their home in Fredericton, New Brunswick (updating the registration to C-FIMK). The aircraft served with FPL for several seasons as both a fire bomber and bug sprayer before moving into inactive storage at Fredericton in 1985. FPL sold the Avenger to Jeff Thomas in Seattle, Washington during 1994, but he soon sold the project on to Byron Neely of Austin, Texas. Neely placed the aircraft on the U.S. register as N704QZ. The Commemorative Air Force acquired the Avenger in 2003, and while it entered restoration with the Florida Wing in DeLand, Florida, the CAF eventually parted with the airframe in 2012, selling it to an undisclosed buyer in Carson City, Nevada. While some additional restoration work did take place, the Avenger clearly will need significant additional work to return it to flying condition. Fagen Fighters acquired the airframe in 2022; their restoration wing has a significant inventory of parts and plenty of experience to return this aircraft to its authentic military configuration in due course. The plan, as published at present, is to restore this airframe to airworthy condition while restoring the other example to static for museum display.