Aviation fans got an early treat this year when a whopping ten TBM Avengers came together for one special weekend in April.
The event, held at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, IL, grew out of an annual private get together organized by local TBM owner Brad Deckert. The idea for this year was to get as many Avengers together as possible, and things quickly grew from there into an open invitation for aircraft and enthusiasts. As word spread and more pilots made plans to attend, estimates grew from 50 airplanes to 100 airplanes to 200 airplanes. Portions of the airport grass were converted to overflow airplane parking, and fuel trucks were purchased and borrowed since the airport had none.
The day before the main event, Friday, featured plenty of action itself. Throughout the day, the lineup of the giant torpedo bombers on the ramp allowed for a running count of Avengers in attendance. One by one they arrived and joined the lineup. The tenth and final aircraft arrived in the late afternoon. The airport was open for normal business all day, so traffic filtered in and out. One Avenger flight was launched in the afternoon; a four-ship formation along with a Cessna 210 photo ship. It was a warm up of sorts for the main photo flight that evening.
As the sun went down, crews gathered with several photographers to brief a major sunset photo flight. By shuffling pilots between airplanes, eight formation-qualified aircraft were established. The plan was to launch as two four-ship flights, Alpha and Bravo, and then join up together. The Cessna and a T-6 Texan were used as photo ships. With sunset approaching, it was a race to get out of the briefing and into the aircraft. AirshowStuff was able to hitch a ride in Bravo Four, the CAF Missouri Wing‘s Avenger and the last aircraft in the formation.
Unfortunately, 70 year old warbirds are not known for reliability and one aircraft could not get started. The rest launched and headed north to find some sunlight. Another aircraft began trailing smoke just after takeoff and returned to the airport as a precaution, leaving six aircraft – three in each flight. Alpha flight was already established in an echelon formation off of the T-6 photo ship when Bravo caught up, so the three newcomers joined up behind them to form a double echelon formation. After a few moments for photos, the formation was shifted into a six-ship echelon, stacked upwards. From our position on the end of the line, we were looking down at the amazing sight of five Avengers and a T-6, all lined up. Thanks to the skill of the pilots, and some pleasantly still evening air, the formation held together quite impressively until it was time to split apart. Two of the Bravo aircraft, including ours, headed back to the airport while the other four stayed for more shots with the other photo ship.
Saturday morning was the opening of the official event, which was completely free. Turnout was fantastic, and the airport was well prepared to handle it. Thousands of people wandered the ramp, getting an up close look at the many different kinds of aircraft parked there. Aided by absolutely perfect weather, arriving aircraft filled the pattern and clogged the taxiways. Several major warbirds, such as two P-51 Mustangs, an AD-4 Skyraider, and a T-28 Trojan flew in for the day as well. The Avengers got things going right off the bat, and launched all nine airworthy aircraft (one was hangared for maintenance) together. A three-ship formation led the parade, with the others following in trail for several passes before landing. The airport remained open the entire time, with more aircraft arriving constantly.
After the main flyby, the flying entertainment was mostly in watching the arrival traffic. The airspace was astoundingly busy, right up there with Oshkosh itself; and at an untowered field no less! Several groups of T-6s performed formation flybys during the the day, and a four-ship of Avengers launched around lunch time for some flybys, including a missing man formation. Several warbirds came back for a flyby before heading home and a pair of T-33s made several passes before landing. Thanks to an aerobatic box at the airport, several pilots took advantage of the opportunity to renew their aerobatic certifications by performing short routines for an observer on the ground. The crowd dwindled as the day went on, and by sunset the Avengers sat peacefully on the ramp.
In the end the event was wildly successful, with over 250 aircraft (52 of them warbirds) in attendance and more than 10,000 people on the ground. Arriving aircraft maxed out at 137 in just an hour – that’s more than two every minute! There is talk of bringing it back next year. If it does return, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better use of a spring day!
The photos shown here are just a small sampling of the event. Please be sure to check out the full Gathering of TBM Avengers 2016 album in our gallery!
Thank you to Brad and Jane Deckert for hosting, to Jordan Brown and the CAF Missouri Wing for allowing us to ride shotgun, and to all of the other pilots and crews that made the event such a success! Be sure to check out Warbird Digest for more photos from the sunset flight!