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Last WWII-era Avenger makes final flight before museum stop

The last of the fleet of Second World War-era Avengers used for aerial spraying in New Brunswick flew over the province for the final time Thursday on its way to become a museum exhibit at a base where it once served in the Halifax area.

Avenger pilots and other aviation enthusiasts called it a sad day as the former navy torpedo bomber – built in 1944 – lifted off the runway in Fredericton.

"I get goose bumps every time they start up," said former pilot George Budaker of Fredericton.

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"Just the sound, the throaty sound, the sound of power."

In fact, the engine on the Avengers developed almost 2,000 horsepower.

"They were a tough plane and they brought a lot of crews back during World War II," Budaker said.

Former United States president George Bush flew a TBM Avenger during his wartime service.

His plane was shot down over the Pacific in 1944.

Mr. Bush autographed one of the planes after spotting it at the Fredericton airport during a visit to New Brunswick in back in 2002.

John Lavigne, a former chief pilot for Forest Protection Ltd., logged more than 1,200 flight hours in the Avengers.

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He said it was an incredible plane to fly.

"It's a wartime airplane to begin with, and to fly something that actually made history … it's a sweet airplane," Mr. Lavigne said.

He said even the smell of the aircraft was appealing.

"You were smelling history."

At one time, Forest Protection Ltd. had as many as 30 of the aircraft, which were used for the spruce budworm spray program over New Brunswick forests in the 1960s and 1970s and later for fighting forest fires.

Over the past 10 years, the company has been selling its remaining Avengers to collectors and museums.

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"We requested proposals from about 200 people around the world that we knew were interested in these aircraft," said Dave Davies, Forest Protection's managing director.

"We've sold them in Canada, in the U.S., and even took one apart and shipped it to Australia."

The airplane has been purchased for display at the Shearwater Aviation Museum in Halifax.

John Webber of the museum foundation said the aircraft will be restored to its original condition and colours, and kept on public display.

"The mandate of the museum is to try to collect as many planes that were flown out of Shearwater as we possibly can," he said.

Mr. Webber said the museum almost didn't get the aircraft because the price the company was seeking when it began selling the Avengers was too high for the foundation to pay.

"When it got down to the very last one, out of the kindness of Forest Protection Ltd., they decided they'd sell it at a very reasonable amount of money," he said. The price was about $50,000.

Webber said an hour after the deal was reached, a man from Florida offered the company twice as much money for the plane, but it honoured their agreement.

He said the airplane once served in the Royal Canadian Air Force with the number 303 from its Shearwater base.

"It's an old war bird going home to roost," Mr. Webber said.

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