"Brad Deckert " Avstry #18

Brad tells us about the history of his TBM Avenger.

Published Date: Tue, 26 Feb 2013

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Show Notes

J.R. Warmkessel: Hello, Brad. Welcome to Aviation Story. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Brad Deckert: My pleasure.

J.R. Warmkessel: We have a really rare opportunity to talk about an airplane that you own that is really one of the prides of my eye or the star of my eye because I love seeing it every time I've seen it here at Oshkosh or at the air shows. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Brad Deckert: Well it's a 1945 TBM Avenger. It's a torpedo bomber. The TB is torpedo bomber. M designates that it was built by GM Motors. They built about nine of the ten thousand that were built. It's a Grumman design.

J.R. Warmkessel: And the airplane is in I'd call it show condition. It is absolutely an immaculate airplane. Tell us how did it get that way and give us a little bit of the history of the aircraft.

Brad Deckert: Well the history of the aircraft starting out, it was built in 45 and it flew off of the Jeep carrier the U.S.S. [XXXX] which was a small carrier. It participated in the Okinawa campaign. This airplane has damage. It bullet holes in it and some flack damage and after the war, because it was on a small carrier, it wasn't just pushed overboard like most of them on the big carriers were. So it came back and served into the early 50s as a trainer.

J.R. Warmkessel: So why were they pushing the airplanes off the carriers?

Brad Deckert: Well the war the was over and then the airplanes just became a logistics problem.

J.R. Warmkessel: So to solve the problem, they?

Brad Deckert: Yeah. What were the going to do with them anyway?

J.R. Warmkessel: So this airplane was kind of the spared that fate just kind of luck of the draw, I guess.

Brad Deckert: Purely luck of the draw.

J.R. Warmkessel: And it came back and then what happened to it?

Brad Deckert: Well it served as a trainer up into the early 50s and then was sold to a crop duster in Texas who crop dusted with it until it was sold to a fire fighting company on the West Coast where it fought fires as a fire bomber.

J.R. Warmkessel: They must have done some serious modification to support that kind of activity.

Brad Deckert: Well the plane carries such a big load, it kind of lended itself to either the crop dusting or the fire bombing.

J.R. Warmkessel: Give us some specs. What kind of a load can it carry?

Brad Deckert: Well they would put a tank in it, an 800 gallon tank.

J.R. Warmkessel: And they put that in the torpedo bomb bay?

Brad Deckert: Yeah. The torpedo doors were removed. The bomb bay doors and a tank was fastened there and then all of the armament guns, the ball turret, anything heavy was gutted.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure. Taken out.

Brad Deckert: Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: And that aircraft, what kind of power plant does that have?

Brad Deckert: It's got a Wright R-2600.

J.R. Warmkessel: Dual?

Brad Deckert: It's a two row, two rows of seven. 14 cylinders. Super charged.

J.R. Warmkessel: And how much horsepower does that make?

Brad Deckert: It's a Dash 20, which is a 1900 horsepower version.

J.R. Warmkessel: So it's a little bit of get up and go when it doesn't have a torpedo in its belly.

Brad Deckert: It has a lot of power.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yeah. So after the fire fighting, what happened then?

Brad Deckert: Well after the West Coast fire fighting, it went to Canada and fire bombed there up until the mid-80s. It's got a fairly documented history of that. It had one crash up there. There's still some damage we haven't gotten repaired yet from that.

J.R. Warmkessel: What kind? Ground loop or what kind of damage?

Brad Deckert: No. It had an engine failure in the air and bellied into a swamp.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. Yeah. A lot of people think that an engine failure is the end of the aircraft and I think that one of the things that we can learn is is always fly the airplane. No matter what happens, always fly the airplane. So anyway, please go on.

Brad Deckert: Then it was purchased by a guy in Colorado from Norfolk Spring in Canada and he started the restoration on it. Had the bomb bay doors fabricated and installed and stripped and painted it back to nearly its original colors.

J.R. Warmkessel: What color is that?

Brad Deckert: Well it's he painted it a navy blue. It should be a sea blue.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay.

Brad Deckert: But he's got the correct markings on it for the squadron that it flew with and then he had an engine failure in it and after that decided he was done with it. Put a new engine in it and donated it to the Fargo Air Museum.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. Now one of the things I had been told is that when you use an airplane for crop dusting, you tend to get a lot of corrosion damage that's kind of hard on the airplane. Have you seen any evidence of that?

Brad Deckert: We have been very, very fortunate to have almost no corrosion.

J.R. Warmkessel: Really? No corrosion due to crop dusting.

Brad Deckert: The only place that we are battling corrosion is on the magnesium wheels and that's just the nature of magnesium.

J.R. Warmkessel: Magnesium is just a really hard substance to kind of keep the corrosion off of.

Brad Deckert: Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: So and then the museum got ahold of it and can you give me a little history of what happened then?

Brad Deckert: Well the museum sat on it for five years or three year or whatever their allotted amount of time is before they could sell and.

J.R. Warmkessel: Was it a basket case at this time or?

Brad Deckert: It was technically air worthy. Had I known all the things I know now, I probably wouldn't have flown it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Well but you did fly it and I'm glad you didn't have any too serious ill effects and you bought it from the air museum then?

Brad Deckert: That is correct.

J.R. Warmkessel: And when was that? What year.

Brad Deckert: Well it was about five years ago.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay.

Brad Deckert: Whenever that was.

J.R. Warmkessel: 2007 then?

Brad Deckert: Something like that. Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: And so then what have you been doing to it since buying it from the air museum?

Brad Deckert: Well we never wanted to take it out of commission for a full restoration for several reasons. One: We like to fly it. It's fun.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure.

Brad Deckert: Two: We didn't want to commit that kind of time and money all at once and, equally as important, when we bought it we thought we had about a five year window of being able to talk to the veterans that flew them.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure.

Brad Deckert: And that has proven to be a very accurate estimate. We're in our fifth year now and rarely get to talk to a veteran and the first year we did air shows with it they would just come out of the woodwork.

J.R. Warmkessel: Was that in 2007?

Brad Deckert: 2007-2008, I'd have to look.

J.R. Warmkessel: I would have to think to tell you I was in Oshkosh in 2007 and I think I saw this airplane there and I think it was its first year. I remember seeing a lot of press and I was always impressed by what a fantastic looking airplane it was.

Brad Deckert: Well it's come a long way since then.

J.R. Warmkessel: So tell us. What have you done?

Brad Deckert: Well the interior when we bought it was still just a gutted out fire bomber.

J.R. Warmkessel: Airplane.

Brad Deckert: And we have been very fortunate to have been able to come up with a tremendous amount of the original stuff to go inside. We've restored the cockpit to nearly perfect original condition. Most of the radios. We were able to find the ball turret. Lots of hard to find stuff that we've been able to put back in it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Now is this new old stock you're finding mostly or just parts off of salvaged aircraft? Where are you finding the parts or what kind of parts are you finding?

Brad Deckert: Well like the ball turret, those are specific to TBMs. Some of the radios were pretty specific to TBMs. Of course the cockpit was all very specific. Our forward looking radar we found new in a box in a hangar somewhere.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sort of like hitting the lottery, isn't it?

Brad Deckert: Yeah. So some parts are actually not even our's. They're just on loan to us.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure.

Brad Deckert: Some people have donated parts.

J.R. Warmkessel: A lot of the people in the community help each other out and try to keep the airplanes going.

Brad Deckert: Yeah. It is much a team effort.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yeah. It's very much appreciated. The aircraft has some armaments on it. So when it was flying in 45, how would it have been configured?

Brad Deckert: Mostly the way it was configured is the way it is configured now. It would have had the ability to carry one 2000 pound torpedo or 2000 pounds of bombs in the bomb bay and this airplane also had wing rockets.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay.

Brad Deckert: Which we have on there and the forward looking radar that I mentioned before was also original to this airplane and this particular airplane has the radar unit on it.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. So four rockets maybe?

Brad Deckert: Six.

J.R. Warmkessel: Six rockets.

Brad Deckert: There's actually seven total.

J.R. Warmkessel: Seven rockets and a 2000 pound torpedo or bombs. Now the torpedoes. What kind of torpedo would have that been in that era?

Brad Deckert: A Mark 13.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay and that would have been a fire and forget and it would have just done its thing?

Brad Deckert: Yeah. Fire and forget kind of implies that it had some kind of a tracking system, which it doesn't. It was simply a point and shoot.

J.R. Warmkessel: And so basically the airplane would find its target, line up on its broadside I would imagine, and kind of walk me through what that would be like releasing that weapon?

Brad Deckert: Well scary I think would be the best description. Especially earlier in the war, they had to be fairly low and fairly slow and steady. So they sat there simply as a target.

J.R. Warmkessel: How far out could you be and release that torpedo and have a good chance of hitting your [XXXX]?

Brad Deckert: Well I think the closer the better and I think they needed to be within several hundred yards.

J.R. Warmkessel: So you really delivered that all the way to the destination.

Brad Deckert: Yes. The pilots that I've talked to, after they've dropped their torpedoes, would pull up to miss the ship.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure. So they were down on the deck.

Brad Deckert: They got up close and personal.

J.R. Warmkessel: Wow and the airplane, if one were to see it at a show, you see it configured with a torpedo now and that's not a real torpedo is it?

Brad Deckert: Or course not, no.

J.R. Warmkessel: So tell us a little bit about that. Was that made or what?

Brad Deckert: We've got several volunteers, some of them very talented, and that was a project for one of our volunteers. So it's made to the original dimensions.

J.R. Warmkessel: And if you look at that torpedo, you could always swear it was a real thing.

Brad Deckert: He did a fantastic job.

J.R. Warmkessel: That really is incredible. What else have you done in the five years under your stewardship to kind of keep that airplane in good order?

Brad Deckert: Well it's a very high maintenance airplane.

J.R. Warmkessel: All airplanes are high maintenance. Maybe it's a little bit more than regular.

Brad Deckert: More than I ever dreamed. We figured about 25 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's a lot of maintenance for an airplane.

Brad Deckert: It's a lot which turns out is not out of ordinary at all. There was 97 at each carrier supporting each airplane. So other than we don't have to do the armament and stuff like that.

J.R. Warmkessel: What kind of maintenance? I mean that's a lot of maintenance. Is it just fixing things that are broken or is there more than that?

Brad Deckert: It's mostly fixing things that are broken.

J.R. Warmkessel: Anything surprising or it's just oil changes and grease?

Brad Deckert: No. No, it's mostly fixing things that are broken or adding things that it should have that it doesn't. We've had several engine problems with it that we've had to address and spend a lot of time on that.

J.R. Warmkessel: Sure. When I was in mechanic school, we had some radio engines that we took apart and the quality and the workmanship in those engines has always been fantastic.

Brad Deckert: It is fantastic.

J.R. Warmkessel: You wouldn't believe how professional and even those engines I was looking at were 80 years old, 60 years old, and they were just immaculate inside. How many people could fit in the airplane? How is it crewed?

Brad Deckert: It has a crew of three in the war. The pilot, the second compartment that you see behind the pilot was just occupied with radio gear and an autopilot, and behind that position was the ball turret gunner, and down below the ball turret was a radioman navigator.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay and what was that turret armed with in the war?

Brad Deckert: The turret has a 50 caliber.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay.

Brad Deckert: And then there's a 50 caliber in each wing.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. So the pilot would operate the ones on the wing and the?

Brad Deckert: That's correct.

J.R. Warmkessel: The weapons officer would operate the turret. Tell us a little bit more. What should I ask you about this aircraft that I haven't asked?

Brad Deckert: Well that's a good question.

J.R. Warmkessel: I like to ask good questions. I don't always succeed, but I like to ask them.

Brad Deckert: What should you ask about it?

J.R. Warmkessel: Tell me about its flying. How does it fly? Is it heavy? Is it light?

Brad Deckert: It's a very heavy airplane. Learning to fly it is mostly learning to anticipate the trim. If you don't trim it for what you're doing, it will just pull the stick out of your hands.

J.R. Warmkessel: Really? It's that powerful? It will just rip it right out?

Brad Deckert: Yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. So you've got to be a little bit ahead of the airplane and what about fuel consumption? How much octane does it burn?

Brad Deckert: Well we flight plan it for a hundred gallons an hour. Take off: It's over 200. [XXXX] power is about 180 and then the manuals say you can get it down to about 60, but I can't.

J.R. Warmkessel: Yeah. Sure. That's a lot of gas. What is its totally capacity?

Brad Deckert: Not enough.

J.R. Warmkessel: [XXXX] I imagine it sitting on a carrier and steamed up to whatever it is you were going to blow up and then.

Brad Deckert: It holds 320 in three different tanks.

J.R. Warmkessel: Left, right, and center?

Brad Deckert: Yeah. I sit on a 140 gallons and then another 90 in each wing stub.

J.R. Warmkessel: Now was that airplane designed to use 100 low lead or what was it?

Brad Deckert: It was designed for 130. We limit the super charger boost a little bit so that we don't have any issues with using the 100 low lead we have today.

J.R. Warmkessel: So what's its factory total boost that you get up to in 45?

Brad Deckert: In 45, you'd boost up to 49 inches of manifold pressure.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's a lot of manifold pressure.

Brad Deckert: Yeah. So we limit it to 45 now.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. So 45. In 1945 it was limited to what?

Brad Deckert: 49.

J.R. Warmkessel: To 49 and then you have it at 45.

Brad Deckert: Yes.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. Well that's a good safety for margin.

Brad Deckert: Yeah and it has plenty of power. There's just no need to go to 49 inches.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay.

Brad Deckert: We also limit the RPM some.

J.R. Warmkessel: So if people wanted to see this aircraft and they weren't able to come to Oshkosh this year, where would be the best place for them to find information about it?

Brad Deckert: Well we have a web site which is simply just So that's the simplest way. Plus you can get ahold of us on that web site and it's always available for people to look at in Peru, Illinois, where it's based.

J.R. Warmkessel: That's where it lives?

Brad Deckert: Yeah.

J.R. Warmkessel: Okay. Now I've got to tell you it's a real mission to keep these airplanes flying and it takes a lot of money and time, but as a pilot and someone who likes to see these airplanes I appreciate and my listeners appreciate how much effort you put into keeping it going. So I wanted to express my thank you.

Brad Deckert: Well that's nice to hear, because it is a commitment.

J.R. Warmkessel: It is. It is a commitment. So thank you very much for your time and Brad I really appreciate you taking the airplane to Oshkosh and I'm sure listeners would like to see it sometime.

Brad Deckert: I appreciate your interest.

J.R. Warmkessel: Bye bye.

Direct link to mp3 audio file of show (right-click to download/save).

Show Notes