Commemorative Air Force battles COVID-19 and engine failure setbacksOct 01, 2020 04:31PM ● By Michael Melneck
Commemorative Air Force is grounded!
Both the pandemic and engine repairs have kept Grand Junction’s Commemorative Air Force (CAF) from its 2020 schedule of appearances and activities. These setbacks have resulted in lost time and revenue, and the near closure of the museum to student tours.
Rare aviation finds
Only 20 of the 10,000 World War II TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers built still fly, and the Rocky Mountain Wing (RMW) is home to one of them. The museum, located near the airport at 780 Heritage Way, Grand Junction, works to restore and maintain its aircraft, and tell the stories of wartime heroes.
During a typical fall and spring, students come from Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties to tour the museum. Visitors are encouraged to be hands-on with the airplanes, visit with veterans and even write a letter to a veteran. Normally, CAF welcomes groups of 20-30 students at a time, and hosted over 1,700 students last year.
The museum’s TBM is the only plane that has a place on the Colorado Register of Historic Properties, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. The museum also has a letter from Queen Elizabeth recognizing the Wing’s TBM flying with Royal Canadian Navy anti-submarine planes aboard the HMS Magnificent, and that it was part of the flyover at the Queen’s Coronation Review of the Fleet in 1953. These prominent honors help inform students and other visitors of the tremendous effort the U.S. and its citizens made to the war effort.
A wrench in the plans
The pandemic has thrown a wrench in the museum’s year-long plans. Most of RMW’s income comes from appearances at and participation in 12-18 air shows during warmer months, all of which have been canceled for 2020. Rides in the airplane and sales of aviation-related items would also normally contribute.
While there are ways to mitigate the adverse effects of COVID-19 to some extent, there’s no quick or easy fix for a TBM engine failure. Last July, a bronze spacer ring on the Avenger cracked and broke loose, falling into the crankcase.
“That’s not an uncommon failure,” said Kent Taylor, the CAF’s Wing Leader. “But the fix can only be done by an FAA-registered repair shop.”
The entire engine has to be disassembled and inspected, any internal damage repaired, and then the engine is reassembled and tested. The repair can cost up to $75,000, plus $10,000 for shipping.
RMW is looking to meet its $40,000 goal before it ships the engine off for repairs. It’s a lot for this small nonprofit staffed entirely by volunteers, but RMW isn’t taking these hits sitting down. Member dues and donations, events, open houses and an annual World War II Hanger Dance contribute to the group’s revenue stream.