Those gathered on the taxiway at the Williams County Regional Airport on Thursday heard it before they saw it, and just before 9 a.m. the World War II-era TBM Avenger torpedo bomber made its final pass before touching down on the airport runway.
Piloted by Charlie Cartledge, of Orrville, the Grumman-built TBF Avenger was one of the stars of the 2019 Fly-In and Breakfast, a local July Fourth family tradition put on by the Kiwanis Club of Bryan for the past 52 years. This year’s edition saw several thousand people enjoy breakfast and tour about a dozen planes on display for a few hours on a steamy summer morning at the airport.
Cartledge’s torpedo bomber made a return visit this year, flying in from the Port Clinton area. The plane was developed initially for the United States Navy and Marine Corps in World War II, entering U.S. service in 1942 and first seeing action during the Battle of Midway.
Cartledge said he took about 14 years to build the three-seater TBF Avenger from the ground up, telling curious spectators who examined the plane that most of the sheet metal, along with virtually all of the instruments, controls, hydraulics, cables, bolts and fittings were replaced.
“It’s about as close to a new TBM aircraft as possible,” Cartledge said Thursday.
The local Kiwanians offered 100 raffle tickets for a ride in the Avenger to help defray costs, and all the tickets were sold, said Kiwanian Len Stough.
Local Air Force veteran James D. Bouman was one of the attendees who had hopes of landing a ride in the Avenger. His daughter and son-in-law, Denise and Rex Blevins, of Stryker, purchased a raffle ticket for Bouman, who served as an Air Force physical condition specialist from 1950-54, serving two more years in the Air Force Reserve.
Bouman, now 90 years old, said he remembers flying in an Avenger or a plane similar to the Avenger in the early 1950s in a flight between Nebraska and New Mexico, where he was stationed at the time, that was specially outfitted for former Air Force General Curtis LeMay. (LeMay was later the vice presidential running mate of American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in the 1968 presidential election).
Bouman collected military artifacts for 50 years and most of them are in the Military Heritage museum that was started at the American Legion Post 284 in Bryan. In 2017, the museum became a 501(c)(3) Williams County Veterans Heritage Museum that currently is located at the Williams County Historical Society in Montpelier.
“He’s always been interested in history and aviation. We’re hoping he gets to ride in the Avenger,” his daughter said.
In the drawing Thursday morning, Liam Phillips, of Bryan, was the winner, and he was present, so he and his father-in-law enjoyed a half-hour ride in the Avenger around noon on Thursday.
The other stars who emerged at this year’s Fly-In, besides Kiwanis Club members and airport volunteers, were the Bryan High School football and volleyball teams, who pitched in to help the Kiwanis Club prepare and serve several thousand breakfasts.
The Fly-In has been a fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club for 52 years, but the club announced that due to the declining number of volunteers and the amount of work involved, this year would be its last as the operating presenter. So having the extra help from the teams made a big difference, club members said.
“We were more than willing to help,” Bryan High football coach Grant Redhead said, adding that he stresses having his players involved in the community.
“We try to get them to see that service to others is as important or more important than what they do on the field. We stress that giving back to the community is important. It’s bigger than just themselves. We’re always trying to get more involved,” Redhead said.
Bryan High volleyball coach Melanie Reinhart agreed, saying she stresses “service to others is a good skill they can learn. We always enjoy interacting with the community. It’s good for them as a team.” She said it was also an opportunity for the team to say thank you to the boosters club for their new uniforms, which they wore Thursday.
Both Reinhart and Redhead said they were planning to have their teams return to volunteer at the event in 2020.
Airport board vice president Brent Wilson said the airport booster group has agreed to take over the Fly-In Breakfast beginning next year. The Kiwanis Club has said it will continue to volunteer and offer help with the event.
Stough said a low-level haze Thursday morning cut down on the number of planes that were able to land Thursday, but said the Fly-In was a success and while he didn’t yet have a financial tally, he expected the event to be in the black.
Both he and 2019 club president Dick Brickel said they were pleased with this year’s event.
“We had the haze early, so there were planes that were supposed to come in that told me because of that they (couldn’t). But I thought it went well. We sold all 100 of our raffle tickets, so we’ll do well there,” Stough said.
“I thought it was fabulous. Having the (football and volleyball) teams there helped out tremendously,” Brickel said.