26th November 2010 | Polk City, Florida, USA. This weekend Fantasy of Flight, located at 1400 Broadway Boulevard Southeast in Polk City, is recognizing its fifteenth anniversary. One of the aerial demonstrations on Friday was by owner Kermit Weeks. In front of thrilled attendees, he flew a World War II Grumman TBM Avenger, unofficially known by “old salts” as a “Turkey.”
Mr. Weeks told the appreciative crowd after the flight that on the day before he also flew the big torpedo bomber. Kermit said it occurred to him on the holiday that ironically he was flying a “Turkey” on Thanksgiving! Additionally, the voluminous blue exhaust smoke, which always pours from the Wright R-1600’s exhausts upon startup, brought “smoked turkey” to Kermit’s mind.
Mr. Weeks noted that former President George H.W. Bush flew Avengers in his youth. When he earned his wings Bush was the youngest aviator in the U.S. Navy. According to a Naval Historical Center bio, as a junior grade lieutenant, he was a pilot with squadron VT-51 and flew from the light carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30).
On September 2, 1944, Bush flew a mission against a target on the island of Chi Chi Jima. Japanese antiaircraft fire greeted the planes, hitting and setting fire to his aircraft. Lt. (jg) Bush completed the bombing run before he and one other man took to parachutes.
Unfortunately, Bush was the only survivor of the three crewmembers. Not long afterward Bush received a Distinguished Flying Cross. In total, Mr. Bush completed 58 combat missions during 1944 and earned three Air Medals and the Presidential Citation relating to USS San Jacinto.
The aforementioned history would eventually and briefly connect Mr. Bush and Kermit Weeks.
Kermit related that when George H.W. Bush was vice-president he spotted Week’s Avenger on a tarmac after arriving at St. Petersburg airport for a campaign stop. Bush eagerly and swiftly climbed into the cockpit, as if he had been doing it regularly for the previous 50 years. The future Commander-in-Chief commented to Kermit that, if his life depended on it, he thought he could “once again fire up the bird and get her around the pattern.”
Mr. weeks also informed the crowd that, although large and relatively slow, the Avenger “is a surprisingly easy airplane to fly.” He added, “It is a fun bird. The type handles well.”
A unique educational opportunity for everyone, the celebratory event at Fantasy of Flight pays tribute to the organization’s early years. Particularly noteworthy is that there are flying demonstrations. Although subject to change, selected aeroplanes will fly on Sunday at 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00. After each aerial demonstration, visitors are often able to explore some cockpits.
Fantasy of Flight’s Art Deco facility is home to many rare flying machines, many of which are airworthy. Accompanying most of the static displays is an informational plaque that provides background on the subject and details about its acquisition. A variety of guided tours are normally available including visits to the restoration areas. Information about the Avenger and Fantasy of Flight is available by calling (863) 984-3500.
The author (John T. Stemple) thanks Kermit Weeks and the Fantasy of Flight staff for their cooperation.
Sources and Suggested Readings
Grumman Avenger – Wikipedia
Fantasy of Flight
Lieutenant Junior Grade George Bush, USNR
President George H. W. Bush – TBF Avenger Pilot
Ex-President Bush’s WWII revolver returned