National Archives #80-G-6678.
Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless
|Dimensions||41'6" by 32'2" by 13'7"
12.65m by 9.80m by 4.14m
|Wing area||325 square feet
30.2 square meters
|Maximum speed||253 mph at 16,000 feet
407 km/h at 4900 meters
|Cruise speed||150 mph
|Landing speed||75 mph
|Climb rate||18 feet per second
5.5 meters per second
|Service ceiling||26,000 feet
|Power plant||1 1000 hp (746 kW) Wright Cyclone R-1820-32 nine-cylinder radial engine driving a three blade propeller|
|Armament||2 0.50 fixed
nose machine guns with 360 rounds per gun
1 0.30 flexible rear cockpit machine gun with 2000 rounds
|External stores||1 1000 lb (454kg) bomb under the fuselage and two 100 lb (45kg) bombs under the wings|
|Range||1370 miles (2200 km) as scout
1130 miles (1820 km) with bomb load
Aircraft Company, El
57 SBD-1 from 6/40
87 SBD-2 from 11/40
752 SBD-3 from 3/41
950 SBD-4/A-24 from 10/42
3639 SBD-5/A-24B from 5/43
451 SBD-6 to 7/44
and –2 lacked the flexible machine gun, and had cowling guns
of only 0.30
flexible 0.30 machine guns and ASB radar.
SBD-5 used a 1200 hp (895 kW) R-1820-60 engine and could carry up to 1600 lbs (726 kg) of bombs or up to three depth charges.
SBD–6 used a 1350 hp (1007 kW) R-1820-66 engine.
Although the Dauntless SBD ("Slow But Deadly") did not enter service until 1940, it was already considered obsolescent by Navy fliers in 1941. However, because of delays in the development of its intended successor, the SB2C Helldiver, the Dauntless remained the standard dive bomber on American fleet carriers until mid-1943 and continued serving from escort carriers to the end of the war. A typical carrier air group of 1941-1942 included a scout squadron and a bombing squadron, each equipped with 18 Dauntlesses. The Dauntlesses of the scout squadron typically flew in pairs for mutual protection when performing tactical reconnaissance, but they were also frequently pressed into service as a second dive bombing squadron.
The design went back to 1934, when the brilliant
aeronautical engineer Ed Heinemann of Northrop
work on a all-metal stressed-skin carrier dive bomber. Ordered in
quantity as the BT-1 in February 1936, the design was heavily
as the BT-2 during the final production run, which was
SBD-1 when Northrop became a subsidiary of Douglas.
Surprisingly, the Dauntless proved to be one of the
most successful ship
killers of the
war, sinking some 300,000 tons of shipping and 18 warships,
six carriers. It was two squadrons of Dauntlesses that sank four
Japanese carriers at Midway and
changed the course of the war. The Dauntless also had the lowest loss
rate of any Navy aircraft.
It was stable in flight and could maintain a
very steep dive of 70 degrees, permitting high bombing
Because the lightweight multicell wing could not be
folded, Douglas designed the aircraft to be as small as possible,
slightly larger than a Wildcat
fighter. It proved
maneuverable when not encumbered by a bomb, and it was actually
a low-level fighter against unescorted Japanese
torpedo bombers at the
Battle of the Coral Sea.
Early models were equipped with a smoke tank and
employed during prewar exercises to lay smoke screens around
friendly ships and to conceal the approach of torpedo bombers from
"enemy" ships, a capability that appears to have never been put to
during the war.
The scouting squadron of an American carrier
searched out to 150 to 200 miles (240 to 320 km), or 300 miles
in rare cases. Searches were usually flown each morning and
The effective combat radius of an SBD was reckoned at 225 miles
km) with a 500 lb (227 kg) bomb or 175 miles (280 km) with a 1000
(454 kg) bomb, the largest carried by early models. This was
considerably less than
half the theoretical maximum range, reflecting the higher use of
during combat maneuvers and the need for a fuel reserve.
The plane proved popular with its crews. One pilot told
A military aircraft is built differently than a civilian plane. They're made to do very demanding maneuvers: an upside-down spin, barrel rolls, anything you can thing of. You'd get up to 10,000 feet, dive out, and put stress on a military plane that no civilian pilot in a private plane would dream of -- they'd simply come apart. When you're in that power dive you heard that Wright radial just a'hammering out there -- it's so noisy in the cockpit because it's being blown right back at you. After a bomb run it was very pleasant in the cockpit. When you pulled out of the dive and cleared the target my gunner and I would light a cigar. You were still alive and had no reason to take it home. It's warm and you're perspiring. In a very few seconds you're coming from about 1,500 to 2,500 feet and the temperature changes a lot. So the SBD was a workhorse. It would come home with huge holes in the wings and pieces shot off all over. She was a real workhorse, a gorgeous airplane, and I was very lucky to fly it.
About a thousand Dauntlesses were allocated to the U.S. Army as the A-24. These proved unsuccessful. Ships are extremely valuable targets compared to most land installations, and a loss rate that was acceptable in the antishipping role was unacceptable in the ground support role.
Dunnigan and Nofi (1998)
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