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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Doubtlessly Dauntless Dive Bomber at AirVenture
SBD Dauntless is on display in the Warbirds area.
Crew chief Charles Kennedy tends to Dauntless.

By Frederick A. Johnsen

Dauntless, a word meaning determined and fearless, rests confidently in the dossier of the Douglas SBD dive bomber bearing that name. One June 70 years ago, Dauntlesses and their equally dauntless crews decided the outcome of the Battle of Midway in 1942 by sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers. Some say they ensured the inevitable outcome of the entire Pacific war.

Fast-forward to today: The Commemorative Air Force brought one of only two Dauntless dive bombers flying to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2012. Charles Kennedy, the SBD's flying crew chief, says the CAF brings the Dauntless to perhaps 10 shows a year - "as many as we can get in."

He enjoys his usual perch in the Dauntless' gunner's compartment behind the pilot. The bomber's noticeable dihedral and fixed slots ahead of the ailerons in each wing's leading edge give the Dauntless a rock-steady ride with relatively "puppy dog" stall characteristics.

A walk around the Dauntless with Kennedy reveals several interesting quirks on this vintage airframe. For example, the centerline bomb, released in a 70-degree dive, could clip the propeller whirling just ahead of it. To clear the prop arc, Douglas devised a wishbone-shaped trapeze that swings the bomb away from the fuselage before releasing it, Kennedy points out. And between the forks of the wishbone, a seldom-seen belly window lets the pilot scan down toward his target.

Another salient feature of the SBD is its bright red perforated dive brakes. Extending both above and below the trailing edge of the wing, these brakes slowed the onrushing dive of the Dauntless to manageable speeds. Kennedy says the FAA does not want these devices used on the CAF's Dauntless, so they are only spread open when the bomber is displayed on the ground. For landing flaps, only the portions of the dive brakes extending below the wing are deployed.

Kennedy also points to a single white stripe angling on the side of the vertical fin of the SBD. This, he says, was a cue to the aircraft carrier landing signal officer, showing the Dauntless' position and attitude as it approached the carrier.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the fuselage, a circular hatch encloses a tubular compartment that once held the crew's life raft. Now, a dummy representation of the life raft masks the compartment's repurposing as a place to stash operating supplies.

Kennedy says the Dauntless travels with five gallons of special non-detergent mineral oil with which to replenish the aircraft's normal 19-gallon oil reservoir. Such oil is not to be found at some stops, and it behooves the CAF to have enough, since according to the old adage, radial engines are either leaking oil, or out of oil.

The CAF's research indicates this Dauntless is a former U.S. Navy SBD-5, bearing Bureau of Aeronautics number 54532. Its research has put to rest long-held notions that this bird was really an Army Air Forces A-24 variant.

After its American service, this Dauntless earned its keep as a photo-mapping platform - remember that rock-steady dihedral - in Mexico. Warbird legend Ed Maloney bought the Dauntless and returned it to his Planes of Fame collection in the 1960s before selling it to the then-Confederate (now Commemorative) Air Force.

If you have a yearning to fly in a genuine World War II dive bomber, the Commemorative Air Force plans to move the Dauntless to nearby Fond du Lac either today after the air show or on Wednesday. After the relocation, the plan is to sell back-seat rides in the Dauntless.


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