grumman (general motors) tbm-3e avenger

verModel History:

First entering service in 1942, the Avenger became one of the most outstanding torpedo bombers of World War II.  It continued to see action post-war with the last models being retired in the 1960’s.

History of this Avenger:

Assembled by Eastern Division of General Motors, Trenton, NJ, as part of the – second production batch of TBM-3’s, Bu53050 to Bu53949, to Contract Number 48 after December 1944. Built as a TBM-3E with AN/APS-4 search radar under the starboard wing, strengthened air frame, R-2600-20 of 1900 hp, and provision for drop tanks or rockets underwing. 4657 TBM’s were built under license by Eastern. Production ended in September 1945, Civilian Avengers are registered under Limited Type Certificate (LTC) 8-2 of 17 March 1947, held by Air Trading Corporation, New York, NY.

Military History

28 June 1945

Delivered to and accepted by the USN, AirCraft Acceptance Unit (AAU), NAF (Naval Air Facility) Trenton, NJ, after final assembly by General Motors, Trenton (Mercer County Airport). The base AAU also installed IFF and radars.


Note: Components were manufactured by Converted GM automobile plants at Baltimore, MD; Tarrytown, NY; Bloomfield, Linden, and Trenton, NJ. Production of Avengers by Eastern Aircraft Division reached an average of 350 a month. NAF Trenton AAU (Aircraft Acceptance Unit) accepted over 10,000 aircraft by 10 February 1945. The USN base was on the north side of the field. It had four 4100 foot runways.

July 1945 Assigned to aircraft pool, NAS Alameda, CA.
August 1945

Assigned to CASU 54 (Carrier Air Service Unit Fifty-Four), Training Pool.


Note: Also called Carrier Aircraft Support Units, CASU’s performed maintenance on squadron aircraft, provided instrument aircraft, trained squadron’s enlisted men, maintained a pool of spare aircraft, and towed targets.

September to December 1945

Assigned to VT-17 (Torpedo Squadron 17).


Note: In December 1945, VT-17 was assigned to CVAG-17 (Carrier Air Group 17) along with VF-17 (Bearcats), VBF-17 (Bearcats), and VB-17 (Helldivers). During WWII, VT-17 had been aboard Bunker Hill (June 1943 to February 1945) and the Hornet (from February 1945 until 7 July 1945).

Note: On 15 November 1946, VT-17 became WB-6B, and on 1 September 1948, it was redesignated VA-65.

January 1946 Assigned to CASU 54 aircraft pool.
February 1946 Assigned to CASU 6 aircraft pool.
March 1946 to June 1947 Assigned to storage at NAS Hitchcock Field, Galveston, TX. Hitchcock Was WWII LTA base.
July 1947 to March 1948 Assigned to aircraft pool, NAS Norfolk, VA.
April to May 1948 Assigned to Naval Air Reserve Training, Columbus, OH. (Code “C”)
June to August 1948 Assigned to Naval Air Reserve Training, Akron, OH. (Code “L”)
(1949) (Last three regular Avenger WA squadrons retired from USN.)
6 March 1950 NAS San Diego, CA. Overhaul and Repair.Note: In 1950, the USN still had about 1500 Avengers. In April 1950 there were eight ASW squadrons. These were designated VC, but later became VS units with the same numbers.
27 April 1950 NAS San Diego, CA. Overhaul and Repair.
1 May 1950 NAS San Diego, CA. Overhaul and Repair. 623 TT.
(May 1950) (Royal Canadian Navy acquires 114 ex-USN TBM-3S anti-submarine aircraft via MAP [Military Assistance Program]).
(June 1950) (RCN acquires two more Avengers from USN. In Canadian service these were known as AS Mk. 3)
4 August 1950 NAS San Diego, CA. Overhaul and Repair.
29 September 1950 NAS San Diego, CA. Overhaul and Repair.
9 December 1951 Assigned to NAS Cecil Field, Jacksonville, FL, 626 TT, NARTU (Naval Air Reserve Training Unit). (Code “J”)
May 1951 NAS Jacksonville, FL, NARTU, Cecil Field.Note: NAS Jacksonville was Fleet Air Center. Tail code for reserve aircraft based at Jacksonville Was “AJ”
November 1951 NAS Jacksonville, NARTU. 670 TT.
February 1952 NAS Jacksonville, NARTU, 716 TT.
(1952) (Five TBM ASW squadrons still with USN.)
May 1952 Assigned to NAS Norfolk, VA. Overhaul and Repair. 742 TT. Tail code for aircraft based at Norfolk was “AS”.
(May 1952) (RCN acquired one more Avenger and Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd., Halifax, NS, modified 16 aircraft as AS Mk. 3M with MAD and stepped greenhouse canopy. Others were modified as target tugs.)
6 June 1952 “Retired” at NAS Norfolk, VA.
6 June 1952

Brought on charge Royal Canadian Navy as an AS Mk. 3, serial number 53818, coded “386”.Note: RCN had 125 Avengers which served from 1950 to 1957 in eight squadrons. No. 825,826, VC-920, VS-880, VS-881, VT-40, VU-32, and VX-10. Avengers operated from HMCS Magnificent. RCN Avengers were painted Dark Gray over Light Gray and had black unit letters. They had red and white striped tail hooks. Aircraft carried depth charges and acoustic homing torpedoes in the bomb bay and retained under wing rocket rails.

 Note: Magnificent was laid down at Harland & Wolf, 29 July 1943, launched on 16 November 1944, and commissioned on 21 March 1948. She displaced 14,700 tons and carried 37 aircraft. Magnificent was loaned to the RCN in 1948 and returned to Britain after replacement by Bonaventure in 1957. She was scrapped in July 1965.

16 June 1952 Received from the USN and flown to RCN Air Station HMSC Shearwater, Dartmouth, NS. Taken on charge and assigned #386.(Note that this data from the Canadian National Aviation Museum, Ottawa, conflicts with the USN aircraft data card for Bu53818.)
23 July 1952 Contract repair (factory maintenance) at Dartmouth, HMCS Shearwater.
(September 1952) (RCN acquired eight TBM-3W2 anti-submarine Search aircraft with APS-20 radar in Ventral radome and dorsal turret removed.)
12 September 1952 To Fairey Aviation of Canada, Co. Ltd., at Eastern Passage, NS, near Shearwater for storage.
(November 1952) (Reconditioned, Overhaul & Repair NAS Norfolk, VA.)
7 November 1952 (Still listed as at NAS Norfolk, VA.)
1 July 1953 “Stricken” at NAS Norfolk, VA, strike code 2108, 746 TT.  To Fairey Aviation of Canada, Co. Ltd., for conversion.
(June 1954) (Last USN Avenger stricken.)
31 July 1954 Stored Reserve, Dartmouth (Shearwater) NS.
21 September 1954 Assigned to VS 881 (Fixed Wing Anti-Submarine Squadron) based at Shearwater and deployed on occasion to HMCS Magnificent. At this time the unit was commanded by Lt. Commander RWJ Cocks.Note: VS 881 operated TBM-3E and AEW from 1 May 1951 to March 1957. Aircraft were coded “WG-ABA” to “VG-ABZ”. The AEW Avengers provided the RCN with airborne early warning capability until replaced by CS2F-1 Trackers in February 1957. No. 881 VS 881 Squadron’s motto was “Steadfastly with winged sword”.
16 April 1955 VS 881 assigned to HMCS Magnificent.
September 1955 VS 881 deployed aboard Magnificent. During this time the unit was commanded by Lt. Commander NJ Geary, RCN.
27 October 1955 HMCS Magnificent cruise to Bermuda, VS 881 returned to Dartmouth 12 December 1955.
23 February 1956 Stored Reserve, Dartmouth (Shearwater), NS.
13 August 1956 Assigned to VC 920 (Fixed Wing Composite Squadron-Reserve) attached to HMCS York, Toronto, ONT, and based at RCAF Station Downsview
17 August 1956 First level storage Dartmouth (Shearwater), NS
20 September 1956 Assigned to VS 880, based at RCAF Summerside, Prince Edward island, and deployed at times to HMCS Magnificent.  Note: No. 880 Squadron, later VS 880 was “transferred” from the RN to the RCN on 1 May 1951. It flew TBM-3E from November 1951 to December 1957. Aircraft were coded “VG-BDA” to “VG-BDZ” and later “300+”. The unit was re-equipped with 10 CS2F-1 Trackers in October 1957 for service aboard the new carrier Bonaventure. The unit’s motto was “To seek out and destroy”.
25 September 1856 VS 880 commanded by Lt. Commander P. Lewry, RCN, deployed aboard HMCS Magnificent.
12 October 1956 VS 880 assigned to Dartmouth (Shearwater), NS.
19 February 1957 Disposal, Dartmouth (Shearwater), NS.
12 September 1957 Declared surplus, Declaration “HO 3061”.
1 October 1958 Struck off charge from FCN.
(March 1959) (Last RCN TBM-3W2 struck off charge.)

Civilian History

29 February 1960 Sold as AS. 3 (TBM-3E) to Ewing Aviation Co., Sepulveda, CA, as N9187Z from Elgin Airways, Ltd., Ontario.
25 June 1960 Modified as tanker: Removed military equipment, including bomb bay doors, installed 600 gallon borate tank with two 300 gallon compartments, installed rotating beacon, removed autopilot, and registered in Restricted category.
28 June 1960 1454:5 TT on airframe; engine 840 TT (322 SMOH).
(July 1960) (Last RCN TBM AS Mk. 3 and 3M struck off charge.)
1963 With Ewing Aviation Co., Sepulveda, CA.  Note: Ewing also operated B-17G AAF 42-102715, N66573 as tanker E85 in 1961 (later destroyed in a crash) and B-17G AAF 44-85813 (N6649C) as tanker C12 from 1966 to 1970 (also destroyed in a crash).
12 April 1963 Installation of new borate tank and APU.
28 August 1963

To Columbia Flying Service, Hollister, CA, as N9187Z, Tanker # E 89, (Columbia, CA)  Note: “E” Code for tanker, indicated Region 5, California. Columbia Flying Service also operated TBM-3E ex-RCN (Bu53884) N9710Z, tanker E79, during 1963. (see entry for 1966-1969).


Note: TBM-3 tanker modifications usually included tank for up to 625 US gallons or 6000 pounds of fire retardant, enough to cover an area of about 5O X 260 feet.

17 June 1964 Sold to Ernest N. Abell, North Hollywood, CA, as N9187Z
(1965) (125 Avengers on USCAR, 76 active. 25 registered in Canada.)
(1 April 1965) (Last military Avengers retired from ASW duties with France’s Aeronavale.)
1966-1969 With George C. Abell, Topanga, CA.  Note: Abell also operated TBM-3E ex-RCN (Bu53884) N9710Z from 1966 to 1969.
20 March 1971 Sold to Ralph Ponte, Cedar Ridge, CA.
1 December 1971 “Order of Revocation” of registration filed against George C. Abell, Topanga, CA, by the FAA for N9187Z.
c. 1972 Bu53818 stored, as retired tanker #89 at Grass Valley, CA. Tanker paint scheme was all over yellow, with white and red wing tip stripes, blue “89” and blue fuselage stripe. A photo appears in Fire Bombers-Philip Wallick (Osprey, 1987). Ralph Ponte later restored it.
(c. 1973) (Most tanker Avengers withdrawn from fire fighting after a series of accidents.)
1975 With Ralph M. Ponte, Grass Valley, CA.  Note: Ponte also owned or restored the following TBM-3’s: Bu85882 (N9584Z) 1977, Bu91598 (N9548Z) 1976/84, Bu91388 (N9564Z) 1983/88, Bu85794 (NL7001C), Bu85883 (N6825C) 1963/67 with Cal Nat Airways, Bu85886 (N6586Z) 1978, and B-25J/N AAF 43-28222 (N5256V) 1978/80. Grass Valley, CA, was home to Cal-Nat Airways Inc., a fire bomber outfit that used at least six Tigercat tankers.
14 February 1977 Restoration by Ponte; papers filed. Redone as TBM-3E with all tanker gear removed, reinstalled bomb bay and turret, recovered all control surfaces, painted in USN colors. 1910:17 TT.
11 March 1977 Sold to Lt. Col. Leo J. Canavan, Jr., Carswell AFB, 457 Tactical Fighter Squadron, Fort Worth, TX.
April 1977 With Leo Canavan, Fort Worth, TX.
10 June 1977 1919.3 TT.
23 June 1977 Certificate of Airworthiness issued for TBM-3E, #53818.
(1977-1979) (Goodall web site lists Bu 53818 with Leo Canavan, Fort Worth, TX. Re-registered by Canavan as N93818 in April 1979. This conflicts with FAA microfiche.)
16 October 1978 Sold to Porter Aviation, inc., Sacramento, CA.
19 December 1978 Request by Porter to re-register N9187Z as N93818.
24 February 1979 Re-registered as N93818 to Wilbert R. Porter, Sacramento, CA.
(March 1987) (45 TBM’s on USCAR.)
1984-1992 N93818 with Wilbert R. Porter, Sacramento, CA. Painted as USN ‘7’ colors of VT-17 aboard USS Hornet.
25 April 1993 Landing accident at Spooner, WI. Aircraft ground looped on R27. Grass field. NTSB report on file.
7 September 1993 N93818 to Wally Fisk/Amjet Corp/Polar Aviation Museum, Anoka County Airport, MN.
July 1995 Displayed at EAA, oshkosh, Wi.

The TBM participated in an event at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.  The aircraft (along with others) was winched aboard the nuclear carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) in Alameda, California and sailed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where it flew off the deck of the Carl Vinson and landed at Ford Island.  For some video, go here:

4 January 1999 To Amjet Aircraft Corp, Minneapolis, MN.
February 2007 New registration pending.
June 2008 Registered to 938138 LLC, Mounds View, MN.
27 January 2015 Registered to 21 F LLC, Nemo, SD, in Limited Category.
June 2015 Engine runs and wing fold check by Rich Ranheim, at ANE, MN.
8 November 2016 Registered to Paul Ehlen, Hamilton, MT.
5 December 2016 Arrives for display at Wings of the North after several months of maintenance work.
February 2017 Registered to Rare Birds LLC of Bloomington, MN.

History courtesy of Tom Lymburn

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