The Eastern TBM-3 Avenger was the second major version of the Avenger torpedo bomber to enter production, and had a more powerful engine than the earlier TBF-1/ TBM-1. The main problem with the Avenger dash-one was that it was underpowered. The 1,700hp engine had never been able to get it to its target speed of 300mph, and on the heavier -1C speed was further reduced, while a fully loaded take-off could be difficult.
The easiest way to solve this problem would have been to use a 2,000hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800, but all of these engines were allocated to fighter production. Instead Wright had to produce a more powerful version of their R-2600, coming up with the 1,900hp R-2600-10 and R-2600-20 engines. The -10 engine was used in the single XTBF-2 prototype, while the -20 was used in two Grumman-produced XTBF-3s (BuNo.24141 and 24341). These aircraft were very similar to late production -1Cs, but with extra cowl flaps and a second air scoop at the base of the cowl for the oil cooler.
These two prototypes were Grumman's last involvement with the Avenger. They were followed by four Eastern-built XTBM-3 prototypes, and then by 4,657 (or 4660) standard TBM-3s and TBM-3Es.
The TBM-3 was very similar to the TBM-1C. Most of the standard features of the new aircraft had been introduced during the -1C production run, including the use of zero-length rocket stubs under each wing instead of rocket rails. ASB radar with YAGI antenna were carried as standard equipment.
The first major production version, the basic -3 was virtually identical to the TBF/ TBM-1C other than the change of engine, carrying the same guns and payload as late production -1Cs.
The TBM-3D was similar to the -1D, carrying ASD-1 radar in a radome mounted on the leading edge of the right wing. The main scope was in the radio compartment, with a smaller scope in the pilot's cockpit. The armour and guns were often removed. The -3D was using during 1944 by groups on USS Enterprise and USS Saratoga and in smaller numbers on USS Independence.
The TBM-3E was the final major production version of the Avenger, and was lighter and thus faster than the standard -3.
The TBM-3H was a conversion of the TBM-3 with special surface search radar.
The TBM-3J was equipped for Arctic conditions, with de-icer shoes on all leading edges and more heaters.
The TBM-3L carried a retractable searchlight in its bomb bay and was used for anti-submarine warfare and air-sea rescue duties.
The TBM-3M was the designation given to aircraft modified to launch missiles during post-war missile development programmes.
The TBM-3N was a post-war night attack aircraft. The turret was removed and a new canopy installed, with the radar operator in an extended rear cockpit.
The TBM-3P was a photo-reconnaissance version of the Avenger with the cameras carried in the bomb bay.
The TBM-3Q was a post-war radar countermeasures aircraft, intended to jam enemy radar systems. The jamming equipment was carried in a large ventral radome similar to that on the -3W.
The TBM-3R was a transport and cargo aircraft designed to transport vital supplies and personnel to carriers at sea. It was produced during the Korean War by removing the turret, guns, bomb aiming equipment and armour from standard TBM-3s and TBM-3Es. A longer canopy was installed to cover the old turret position and seven seats were installed in the rear cockpit and radio operator's compartment. The bomb bay was modified to carry stretchers, while a special cargo basket was developed by a Chief Petty Officer with Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron Eleven in Japan. The Carrier On Board Delivery (COD) system was a great success and the TBM-3R was the first of a series of transport aircraft produced for this role.
The TBM-3S was a post-war anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The turret was removed and a new radar operator's position installed. The -3S carried its own AN/APS-4 radar, but normally operated alongside the TBM-3W radar early warning aircraft.
The TBM-3U was a generally utility version of the Avenger. Most interior fittings were removed, although the turret remained. The -3U was used as a target-tow, as a utility aircraft, a squadron hack and a light transport.
The TMB-3W was a radar-early warning aircraft developed during the Second World War but that didn't enter service until 1946, remaining in use the hunter part of hunter-killer anti-submarine teams with the -3S throughout the 1950s.