Historic Plane Makes Emergency Landing Off of Florida Beach

WESH 2 News/YouTube
WESH 2 News/YouTube

On April 17, 2021, beachgoers at Cocoa Beach in Florida were in for an unusual surprise landing by an aircraft emergency landing.

A World War II era TBM Avenger was forced to make an emergency landing after experiencing mechanical failure during its flight. The pilot was able to land the plane in the water close to the shore.

Emergency personnel arrived quickly to assess the condition both of the pilot and the plane. Officials relayed that the pilot is fine and that he declined medical treatment. In fact, no injuries at all were reported in connection to the incident.

Video released shows the plane flying low over people swimming in the water and sunning themselves on the shore before setting down just offshore.


The plane is owned by Valiant Air Command. It began its life as a torpedo bomber in WWII. After the war, it was used by the US Forestry Service as a fire bomber from 1956 until 1964 in California. It was also used as a fire bomber in Georgia by the Georgia Forestry Commission.

Valiant spent 18 years restoring the plane and has just gotten it back to the skies in January of 2020.

The plane was participating in the Cocoa Beach Air Show which continued as planned with no further complications.

Workers used a crane to lift the aircraft from the water intact. It sat overnight at Patrick Space Force Base before heading back to Titusville for repairs.

The TBM Avenger was first used at the Battle of Midway during WWII. Avengers could carry torpedoes, bombs, rockets and depth charges depending on the mission.

President George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, flew a TBM Avenger in 1945 as a combat pilot attacking Japanese bases.

The Avenger was designed and originally built by Grumman. But Grumman could not keep up with the Navy’s demand for both more Avengers and more Hellcats, so the Navy awarded a contract to GM to help produce the Avenger.

Image courtesy of USS Midway Museum.
Image courtesy of USS Midway Museum.

By this point, GM had ceased producing civilian cars and was producing aircraft parts. This contract was their first for producing an entire airplane. They proved up to the task and by 1944, they were the only company producing Avengers. At the end of the war, GM had built a little more than 75% of the 9,838 Avengers produced for the war.


The plane that performed the emergency landing at the air show was built in 1945 and is one that was produced by GM.

The first six Avengers to see combat had arrived at Midway just in time for the fighting. But only one returned from the battle and it was severely damaged. None of the planes had registered a single successful hit with their torpedoes.

By August of 1942, the Avenger was the only torpedo bomber in service with the US Navy. After that, it was used in every major US Naval action in the Pacific.

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The UK and New Zealand also received Avengers during the war. The Avenger was used in Operations Goodwood I to IV and the attacks on the Tirpitz. Their biggest successes with the British though came in the Pacific where they were used in the final attacks on the Japanese home islands.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE