woman and there isn’t any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is as lovely as a great airplane, and men who love them are faithful to them even though they leave them for others. A man has only one virginity to lose in a combat plane, and if it is a lovely plane he loses it to, there his heart will ever be.”
ERNEST HEMINGWAY AUGUST 1944.
At the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, when I first confronted a Grumman TBF Avenger, I thought it was a big, ugly, muscle-bound, unfriendly-looking monster. But in the months to come, I learned to love that plane.
A tough, all-metal, mid-wing aircraft with a powerful Wright 1,900 hp radial engine, immense 13-foot Hamilton prop and deep, oval, tapering fuselage, the rugged TBF Avenger bore a strong family resemblance to Grumman’s smaller F4F Wildcat.
Its 52-foot wingspan and 40-foot fuselage made the Avenger one of the largest single-engine planes flown by the Allies during WWII. Yet its rearward-folding wings enabled it to be packed tightly together and fit deck elevators on even the small jeep carriers.
It carried a three-man crew: the pilot in the single cockpit, a gunner in an electrically-driven ball turret to the rear of the greenhouse canopy, and a radioman with radar scope and controls in a compartment back of the internal bomb bay. That bomb bay packed one 2,000- pound torpedo or four 500-pound bombs or five 350-pound depth charges, controlled by the pilot.
The pilot also controlled one fixed-forward .30 caliber machine gun, later upgraded to two wing-mounted .50 caliber guns or eight 5-inch rockets. The turret gunner manned one .50 caliber gun. And the radioman controlled one .30 caliber gun in the ventral gun position.
After a study of the flight manual and a thorough checkout on the ground, I was cleared to take one of these babies aloft on a “fam” flight. As I shoved the throttle forward, picked up speed down the runway and roared into the air, I could feel the power of the 1,900-hp radial engine surging through the controls. This was flying!
At the outbreak of war, the International Olympic Committee had cancelled the 1940 Winter Olympic Games in Sapporo, Japan, and stopped all planning for the 1944 games, scheduled for Cortina d’ Ampezzo, Italy.