MotoArt is elated to add another World War II aircraft to the PlaneTags fleet. Introducing the Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver PlaneTags. Read more about the SB2C Helldiver and learn more about the pilots and airmen who flew them.
The SB2C Helldiver was a two seater, single engine, carrier-based dive bomber and scout plane, produced between 1943 and 1945 by Curtiss-Wright. It was used by the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater and meant to be a replacement for the reliable Douglas SBD Dauntless. It was nicknamed The Beast, The Big-Tailed Beast, Two Cee, and S.O.B. 2nd Class - a play on the initials SB2C and referring to the Helldiver’s challenging handling characteristics.
Take a look at this U.S. military film that introduced the Helldiver.
The SB2C Helldiver was conceived for a very specific period in Naval aviation. Between World War I and throughout World War II, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps utilized dive bombing to deliver a bomb from an aircraft at a steep angle for better shooting accuracy. Before this technique was perfected, bomber aircraft dropped their payloads from a level altitude. It was not until the late 1920s that the Navy made dive bombing a crucial component of their repertoire. It was for this purpose that Curtiss developed the Helldiver family, which included the F8C, a Marine variant of the Curtiss-Wright Falcon, and the XF12C, a two seater monoplane and the last military biplane for the Navy, which were obsolete by the time WWII erupted. The SB2C would be the last of Navy’s dive bombers due to changing technology of aircraft and carriers, and modern warfare.
The U.S. Navy ordered the first prototype of the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver on May 15, 1939. Curtiss was already working at capacity, producing P-40 Warhawks and P-36 Hawks, but began working on the SB2C. There were signs of trouble with the first prototype. Problems with stall weaknesses and handling became apparent almost immediately. The prototype crashed due to engine failure just two months after its first flight. A revised prototype, with lengthened fuselage and other improvements, was destroyed during a diving test on December 21, 1941. The Navy might have canceled the development altogether except that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor and the Helldiver was sorely needed. Nearly 880 alterations were made before the Navy was satisfied with the Helldiver. Some changes were made to the armament and fuselage, but most of the changes were an attempt to fix the bad handling of the plane. These alterations raised the empty weight by 42%.
On November 11, 1943, nearly three years after the prototype’s first flight, the Helldiver was sent to its first combat mission. 276 U.S. Navy carrier-based aircraft (78 from USS Saratoga, 29 from USS Princeton, 69 from USS Bunker Hill, 75 from USS Essex, 25 from USS Independence), 23 land-based US Navy F4U-1 fighters, 1 squadron of land-based US Navy F6F fighters, 23 US Army Air Forces B-24 bombers, and a Royal Australian Air Force squadron attacked Rabaul, New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The U.S. Navy aircraft were able to sink destroyer Suzunami, damage destroyer Naganami, and damage two other destroyers. 11 Japanese aircraft were lost; Americans lost 4 TBF and 5 F6F aircraft in combat; 1 TBF, 2 SB2C, and 4 F6F written off due to extensive damage; and 30 aircraft lightly damaged.
The Helldiver performed poorly, especially compared to the reliable and trusted Dauntless, and further revisions were needed to fully replace the Dauntless. In 1944, a revised variant with a more powerful engine and 4-blade propeller was introduced. In June 1944 during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Helldiver’s weaknesses were further highlighted when a strike force that included 51 SB2C-1C Helldivers and 26 Dauntlesses was launched against the Japanese carriers. Only 5 of the 51 Helldivers returned to land safely on the aircraft carriers; 32 ran out of gas. Only 2 Dauntlesses were lost.
A 5th Helldiver variant was introduced in early 1945, however the need for dive bombers had already waned. Still, the SB2C Helldiver was the most produced dive bomber, with 7,140 made, many of which ended up in use in Italy, France, Greece, Thailand, and Portugal.
Curtiss-Wright was formed in 1929 and went on to become the largest aviation company at the time. In their heyday during World War II, they built more than 142,000 aircraft for the US military. Today the company continues to make aviation components and supplies the commercial, industrial, energy and defense markets.
During World War II, Curtiss-Wright:
Between 1941 and 1943, the Curtiss plant in Lockland, OH produced aircraft engines for USAAF aircraft. Because of the high engine production levels needed for wartime production, a significant percentage of engines did not meet USAAF inspection standards. However, it was later discovered that the defective engines were approved regardless, with company officials conspiring with civilian advisors and Army inspection officers to approve the defective or substandard engines. This, along with the failure of the Helldiver and other issues, damaged the Curtiss-Wright reputation for some time. However after World War II, although the company failed to make the jump to jet aircraft design, it began manufacturing components and diversifying its business.
This is what BuNo 83393 will look like once it is fully restored, image provided by Evan Fagen
Our plane, BuNo 83393, was built as an SB2C-5 and delivered to the U.S. Navy in May 1945. It was used as a torpedo test aircraft in Newport, RI and as a test aircraft at NAS Dahlgren, VA. On July 24, 1945, it was lost in a takeoff from USPNG Dahlgren, VA when it stalled during a forced landing. The wreck of 83393 was recovered by the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in 1993 and was used for spare parts to restore NASM’s Helldiver (BuNo 83479).
Ron J. Fagen, founder of Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls, MN, acquired the wreck of 83393 in 2006 and has been restoring it ever since. Once completely restored, it will be the second Helldiver in flying condition. Keep up with the restoration by following the blog: Progress Made On Our SB2C-5 Helldiver (latest update)
Photo courtesy of Fagen Fighters Restoration Curtiss-Wright SB2C-5 Torpedo Bomber page
Lt. Mark R. Gilbert lost his life when his SB2C Helldiver stalled during a forced landing outside of Dahlgren, VA. Gilbert, like many military test pilots, sacrificed everything for the greater good. 14 million Americans served in World War II; almost 15,000 of them perished in aircrew training. Before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army Air Corps had close to 4,500 pilots, with less than half of them on active duty. By the end of the war, over 435,000 Army, Navy and Marine pilots had been trained. With such high numbers of new pilots and aircraft, it was no surprise that aviation accidents also increased exponentially. The urgency of the war, as well as manufacturing, testing, and flying new aircraft added to the existing risks.
SB2C with Bill Meyer testing Flaps - 13 April 1945 flickr photo by RyanCrierie shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
According to author Anthony J. Mireles in Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States, 1941-1945, the U.S. Army Air Corps/Force suffered 6,351 fatal accidents, with over 13,600 fatalities and more than 7,000 aircraft lost.
As we remember our veterans who served and died in service to their country, we are grateful to the brave pilots who put their lives on the line so that others would be spared. Thank you Lt. Mark R. Gilbert.
Watch this film made during World War II to show pilots what they could expect during participation in the aircraft testing program. It’s a very thorough video but interesting.
MotoArt owner Dave Hall jumped at the opportunity to acquire material from BuNo 83393 and add a SB2C-5 Helldiver to the PlaneTags catalog. "The Helldiver has such fascinating history," says Hall. "We are honored to have one in our collection, especially from such an incredible restoration project."
The SB2C-5 Helldiver PlaneTags are a limited edition of 3,500 and will be available beginning Thursday, November 17, 2022 on planetags.com and in the PlaneTags app. They will initially be offered in the following colors, with and without rivet holes:
Helldiver PlaneTags are the perfect gift for any aviation enthusiast or warbird fan, and certainly belong in any PlaneTags collection. Like many of our World War II collectible PlaneTags, these will not stay in the shop too long.
WW2 planes are often cited as favorites by PlaneTags collectors and it's no wonder why. The will, ingenuity and resources were at an all time high when manufacturers were producing World War II aircraft. Tales of dogfights and heroic flights become romantic decades after the war. Here are a few of our most treasured WWII PlaneTags.
Both of our previous Curtiss PlaneTags are sold out - don’t let this happen to your Helldiver PlaneTag. Grab one while you can.