By Doug Owens, president and CEO of the Lone Star Flight Museum
A newly restored and airworthy World War II-era Avenger torpedo bomber has been recently added to the permanent collection of The Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas. The restoration, which began in September 2019, was made possible through the generous support of The Gary Sinise Foundation, The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, James Bath, and Joe Cialone.
This treasured aircraft has been painted to replicate the one flown by 20-year-old Lt. (j.g.) George H.W. Bush in September 1944 and includes his aircraft’s markings, crewmembers’ names, and “Barbara III” painted below the cockpit.
The museum hosted a private ceremony to roll out the Avenger on the morning of Friday, October 2, with restoration project donors, World War II veterans, President George H.W. Bush’s son Neil Bush and grandson Pierce Bush, museum board members, staff, and volunteers present for this memorable occasion. The Lone Star Flight Museum acquired the Avenger not long after opening its new 130,000-square-foot facility at Ellington Airport in September 2017. Soon thereafter, discussions began about restoring the TBM-3E to its former glory and to pay homage to the 41st President’s service.
President George H.W. Bush was flying a TBM Avenger off the USS San Jacinto on September 2, 1944, when he was shot down while on a bombing mission near the Japanese-occupied Pacific island of Chi Chi Jima. He was rescued by the submarine USS Finback and resumed combat operations after returning to the carrier. His two crewmembers, Radioman Second Class John Delaney and turret gunner Lt. (j.g.) William “Ted” White, were lost. The actions taken that day by Lt. (j.g.) Bush greatly contributed to his legacy as an American warrior and patriot. His heroism and skill earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of all three crew members aboard the Avenger that day, the names of Bush, Delaney, and White are now painted on the museum’s Avenger. The aircraft name “Barbara III” is also painted on the plane. While it is unlikely that the name was actually painted on any of the Avengers that Bush flew, it was widely known among Bush’s squadron mates that he referred to all his assigned Avengers as “Barbara” in tribute to his beloved fiancée Barbara Pierce.
“To see this plane rolled out in such beautiful condition is very moving and throws back great memories of a life well-lived,” Neil Bush said to media covering the rollout ceremony.
President Bush played an important role in the museum’s history. This November, the Lone Star Flight Museum celebrates its 30th anniversary. Coincidently in 1990, when the museum opened, George H.W. Bush was Commander in Chief of the United States. He later served as the honorary chair for the museum’s capital campaign and was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997.
Restoring the Avenger represents a major milestone for the Lone Star Flight Museum. Our board members and staff are thrilled to honor President Bush and have this aircraft as part of our permanent collection. We are extremely grateful to our sponsors for believing in and supporting this special project.