Monday, March 29, 2010

Helping a Friend With Some Photos

Helpin' When I Can, Or Thoughts On a Speedy-Dee

We all have favorite airplanes, and I've made no bones about the fact that mine is the Lockheed F-104. This isn't about that, though, so don't go looking for pictures of pointy little airplanes here. There won't be any of those, not this time anyway. (Probably later, though...)

What there will be is the Douglas SBD, or A-24 if you prefer, although it won't really be an A-24 deal at all because I've got some really tasty photos of 3rd Attack Banshees at Port Moresby to share with you, and that's going to be a whole separate thing on another day. Today's just going to be the SBD, and more specifically, the SBD-2 and -3. So why is that, you might reasonably ask?

It's really simple. My friend Frank has started a Midway-based -2 using the Accurate Miniatures kit and I wanted to help out. What follows (after I finish talking, anyway) are some scans from a Douglas manual that will give a really good idea of what a wartime (as opposed to a contemporary restored warbird, which are, I can assure you, two dramatically different animals!) Dauntless radio operator's turret (and that's what both Douglas and the Navy called it; a turret, and the guy that sat back there was the radio operator) should look like. (Another highly convoluted sentence, that. It's probably a good thing I'm not in school anymore!)I've thrown in a couple of other goodies too just in case they might end up being of use. You would reasonably expect to see cockpit photos too, but they're deliberately conspicuous by their absence since every book you've ever seen on the SBD details that area pretty well and I'm pressed for time just now.

First, and pressed for time or not, here's some more talking! Frank builds primarily in 1/48th scale. So do I. That means we're going to take a half-minute or so and discuss the three kits that are contenders in that scale, even though two of the three are worthwhile with an enormous caveat attached to them. You can get a pretty good SBD model out of any one of these kits even though you're going to laugh at two of them, and maybe even exercise some of that Internet Expertise that can be so pervasive in our hobby and which may even cause you to say something Profound. Then again, maybe not.

The first kit that you can laugh at, or be snobby at, or whatever you might want to do at, is the now-ancient Monogram SBD-more-or-less-3. It truly is old (1960 or 61, I think), and it's got lots of working features such as retractable landing gear, working flaps, and a droppable bomb. It's also got poorly-detailed landing gear and no cockpit to speak of, and on top of all that it's covered in rivets. OK, so let's throw it away, right? No. Let's don't do that, but let's clarify why I'm saying what I'm saying. The basic kit is accurate dimensionally. The working features can be un-done (Modeling 101 rears its ugly head again; no Instant Gratification here, gang!) and missing details added. The landing gear can be fixed. And the rivets are ok, mostly, because the real SBD was covered with universal head rivets (those round-headed ones that stick up from the surface). The rivets are accurate and no other 1/48th (or 1/32nd) scale kit gets them right. In the rivet department it's Monogram's race, although it would be far easier and infinitely more practical to build your model off something a little more modern. It would be extremely labor intensive to construct a good model from this kit, although it can be done. The Monogram kit suffers from being the first one in the scale, and I would probably agree with you that it's best built box-stock, as a representative of days gone by. The pain ain't worth the gain anymore. You can, however, produce an outstanding model from it if you want to do that.

The next contender is from Hasegawa, which I think was issued as a -3 and a -4, and maybe (although I'm not certain about it) as a -5 or -6 too. It's a good kit dimensionally and is easy to build, but in many ways it's as tough a date as the old Monogram one. Simply put, it's not up to what anybody would consider to be The Normal Hasegawa Standards. It doesn't have raised rivet detail (not a deal-breaker), the cockpit is inaccurate in a number of areas, but the worst is in the diving flaps. Monogram didn't open up those holes (all 350+ of them) on their kit, but their kit is almost 50 years old so we can forgive the omission. Hasegawa didn't open them up either, and molded them so softly that centering a drill to correct the flaps is extremely difficult, thus forcing you to replace them with aftermarket, presuming that's still available, or fill them with black paint. It's a cryin' shame, too, because those holes are a major part of the Dauntless' personality. It might not seem so at first glance, but it would take almost as much work to correct the Hasegawa kit as it would the old Monogram one even though you do, in theory at least, have a better starting place. Me, I'd pass it right on by.

Fortunately, Accurate Miniatures also did an SBD for us, and have released it as all the Navy/Marine variants (at least I think they did, but it's no Big Deal if they didn't. If you've got a -2 then a -3 and -4 are a snap to build, while having a -5 means you can easily do a -6 too; most of the changes between SBD variants were internal, with cowling and free-gun installations being the significant external differences. (Yes, I know about the little spinner. It's no big deal.) The AM kit doesn't have rivets (wonder why not---they got everything else right!) but otherwise it's a thing of beauty. I personally stick Eduard PE in every kit I build, but you don't really need it for this one. It's the basis for an outstanding model right out of the box and is the kit of choice for most folks. It's a good 'un.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here are some illustrations and photos for you:

The radio operator's turret. The top of the photo faces forward on the actual aircraft. Note the rudder pedal troughs and radio operator's lap belt---the SBD could be flown from the back seat.   Douglas via Harry Gann

Sitting in the radio operator's position looking forward. The rudder pedals, stowed stick (at the left of the photo) and rudimentary flight instruments are all shown to advantage. Note the hoisting sling by the turnover pylon. While the SBD could certainly be flown aboard the boat, it was frequently hoisted aboard at pierside.  Douglas via Harry Gann

The upper view gives a better idea of how the stick was stowed. The throttle is at upper right. It was a simple cockpit.  The lower photo showes the canvas screen that was normally in place at the forward end of the radio operator's position; note the cutout allowing the back-seat instruments to be seen with the cover in place. Douglas via Harry Gann

The SBD-3 got twin .30 calibre free guns early in the production run, while all the -1s and -2s were outfitted with a single .30 in the radio operator's position. This illustration shows the single gun and its ammo can in the stowed position.  There's no armor visible here; that came later, after combat experience showed it to be a Really Good Idea.  Douglas via Harry Gann

And finally, some shots of operational SBD-2s and 3s. Please excuse the quality on a couple of them; the originals weren't very good...

Neutrality Gray. These SBD-3s wouldn't look like this for long; it's October of 1941 and war is barely a month away. Note that only the middle aircraft has a spinner fitted.  National Archives HG85-017C via Jim Sullivan

Remember that hoisting sling we talked about a few minutes ago? Here's what it was used for. Present-day safety officers would be seriously concerned about the goings-on in this photo, but it was business as usual for the WW2 Navy. The aircraft is an SBD-4.  National Archives

A classic shot of a classic aircraft. These Bombing Six SBD-3s are running up to launch aboard Enterprise; this photo was taken during the February/March 1942 time frame. Note the rudder stripes and oversized national insignia. The Air Group Commander's aircraft is immediately behind B4.  National Archives

End of the road at The 'Canal. This damaged Marine SBD-3 is in the process of being salvaged for parts at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. The battle for the island extracted a heavy toll in both men and equipment.
Admiral Nimitz Museum via Bruce Smith

Is That All There Is?

Yep, for today, anyway. We were experiencing what some folks might call "technical issues" for the better part of the day and now I need to jump on the lawn tractor and go cut a whole lot of grass. Be good to your neighbor and we'll be back to normal tomorrow.

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