Historic Aircraft Carrier
“We were flying down the road,” laughs Ray Cline.
The Bennett Motor Express driver was hauling a vintage plane, and his rear escort radioed him to tell him that the aircraft’s wings were lifting the back of the trailer. “Tell you what, I got great gas mileage on that run,” he quips. “I was so wide I had to watch my wing tips to see we didn’t hit bridges when we flew under them.”
This was the type of plane once flown by Navy pilot George Bush in World War II. On September 22, 1944, on a mission to destroy a radio tower at a Japanese held airfield, the future President Bush was blasted from the sky by anti-aircraft fire. He parachuted into the Pacific and was saved by a U.S. submarine.
On Cline’s trailer was a heavy Avenger torpedo bomber en route from Locust Grove, Ga., to Kissimmee, Fla., for restoration. The 40-foot, 18,700-pound aircraft was the largest single-engine aircraft carrier plane of the war,and pilots joked “it could fall faster than it could fly.”
The vintage plane was over height, oversize, overweight and needed escorts and pole cars. The Avenger had folding wings, but even with the major portion of the wings taken off and chained to the trailer, Cline was 15 feet wide. The wheels were wider than Cline’s trailer so he used a forklift to put a steel I-beam on to the deck and bolted it to provide a platform for the wheels on either side of the trailer.
More than 40 years after she sank, the WWII flying boat surfaces in pieces.
“I had a pull to the front, a pull to the back, the landing gear chained down and a strap over the propeller. There was an extra chain at the back because she was nose heavy. It was like she wanted to dive,” says Cline.
Another of Cline’s old airplane loads was not only awkward, but also unpredictable. He recently hauled pieces of a World War II flying boat, a PBM Mariner used for patrols, submarine hunting and rescues, between air museums in Pensacola, Fla., and Tucson, Ariz. The plane had sunk in Lake Washington, near Seattle, in 1949. Recovery efforts in the early 1990s could only bring a few large sections to the surface, and they had gone to the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola.
“I finished up rolling along with two .50 caliber machine gun turrets on the front of the trailer and the fuselage behind,” Cline says. “The skin of the plane was so fragile that you could see the wind getting ready to peel it back like a banana skin from time to time. I’d have to stop and retie straps and tighten chains along the way to keep the pieces in one piece.”