Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
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Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

The experimental contract for the Helldiver was awarded by the US Navy on 15 May 1939 and the prototype XSB2C-1 first flew on 18 December 1940, although contemporary reports suggest the first flight was made in the previous month. From that date the Helldiver two-seat carrier-borne dive bomber was the subject of constant development. Armour, self-sealing tanks, protected fuel and oil lines, increased armament, a lengthened fuselage and a completely new tail unit with greatly enlarged fixed and moveable surfaces were incorporated in the production SB2C-1, the first of which flew in June 1942. From that date until November 1943 (when the Helldiver first went into action in the Pacific theatre of war) more than 880 design changes were made, some of which were part of the Army-Navy standardisation programme to permit the production of an Army version of the Helldiver as the A-25, which later served with the Marine Corps.

As noted above, the first production version was the SB2G-1 (A-25). This version, 978 of which were built by Curtiss, was powered by a 1,267kW Wright R-2600-8 engine driving a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller. Armament consisted of four 12.7mm machine-guns in the wings and one on a hydraulic mounting in the rear cockpit. Following the experimental XSB2C-2 long-range reconnaissance-bomber seaplane version, delivered in 1943, 1,112 examples of the SB2C-3 were produced with 1,416kW R-2600-20 engines and Curtiss Electric four-bladed propellers. Armament changed to two 20mm cannon. The SB2C-4 and SB2C-5, more than 3,000 of which were built, were developments of the SB2C-3 with perforated wing flaps and under-wing bomb racks under the outer wings for eight 115mm rockets.

To supplement Curtiss production, Helldiver contracts were also placed with the Canadian Car and Foundry Company and Fairchild Aircraft, which were terminated in 1945. These were produced as SBW and SBF respectively.

SB2C-4E Helldiver

 ENGINE1 x Wright R-2600-20, 1285kW
    Take-off weight6385-7550 kg14077 - 16645 lb
    Empty weight4800 kg10582 lb
    Wingspan15.2 m50 ft 10 in
    Length10.8 m35 ft 5 in
    Height5.0 m16 ft 5 in
    Wing area39.2 m2421.94 sq ft
    Max. speed474 km/h295 mph
    Cruise speed360 km/h224 mph
    Ceiling8400 m27550 ft
    Range w/max.fuel1860 km1156 miles
    Range w/max.payload1120 km696 miles
 ARMAMENT2 x 20mm machine-guns, 1 x 12.7mm machine-guns, 900kg of bombs, 8 missiles

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

Comments1-20 21-40
John mStone, 12.11.2017

My dad flew with VB 84. LtCmdr M.M. Stone. Was XO and NAS
Quonset Pt.
Sadly while flying backseat at a Navy Day air show in Vermont Oct 1945, they crashed into hills . Pilot and my dad died. Iguess all shipmates have passed by npw.

JC Jones, 02.07.2017

For Ben Beekman: Ben I knew Hal Buell and am a great admirer of him. He passed away in 2014 in an assisted living facility in North Carolina. You are right, his book is fascinating and I have a copy. I had the pleasure of visiting with him about 4 months before he died. I would guess that my copy of the book is the last one he autographed. He was a true hero (Navy Cross, Silver Star, Multiple DFC's) and is recognized as such throughout the Navy as such. He was my first operational commanding officer, VF-84, Oceana NAS.

PANOS, 15.11.2016


Jon Lord, 22.05.2015

Glad I found the comments, especially by Aircrewman Rollins. I had wondered how effective those twin machine guns were as they were mounted so low. 2C "Second Class" would refer to the Navy rank of Petty Officer Second Class. Many of the rear gunners were 3rd class or 2nd class PO's.

Steve Andreason, 11.05.2015

My father LCDR Ray Andreason flew the SB2C4E in combat with VB-12 on the USS Randloph CV-15. He received multiple air medals and 3 campaign stars (invasions of Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and carrier strikes on Japan mainland). He trained in the SBD and never said a bad thing about the Helldiver. "How can I complain about a plane that took me into harms way and returned me safe and sound everytime."

LYNN TIMMERMAN, 15.03.2015

I was an Air Corps Engineering Officer attached to Wright Field's Materiel Command, and assigned to Buffalo NY to be the OIC of the Air Corps modification center located at the Buffalo airport. One of our projects was to strengthen the tail section of the SB2C because on carrier landings the tail hook, when snatched, would remove the tail assembly from the rest if the aircraft. We called this plane--
the SB2C---"SOB with 2 cockpits".

Roberta, 30.01.2015

My dad was a gunner in ww 2. Many of his logs and some personal effects are now on display on the U.S. Inteipid . Now docked in New York. My dads nick name was gunner. He was very proud of his Navy days and so is his family. Go vets .

Johnny, 19.02.2013

Hello I make leather flying unit patches, USAAF/USN/USMC,ww2 era specialty, contact me for photos/info
Much thanks to all veterans who fought in WW2, it is Very much appreciated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dougan, 24.11.2012

It was not as bad as it was said to be. I did however only fly the later models the SB2C-4 And SB2C-5. The models before the 4 and 5 I was told were dangerous and unstable to fly. But the later models were used even on the Casablanca class carriers which had very short flight decks. The truman committee is what gave curtiss a bad name. How they could bash a good plane? plus bashing the legendary P-40 is a corrupt committe if you ask me. Anyone can look up the P-40s service record and the SB2C's Service record. and there is no way you can say they were failures or faulty designs.

Ralph Alshouse, 24.11.2011

I flew SB2C,s. One starting at 15000feet I pulled a Split- S. I went straight down. The stick froze at about 430 knots. I knew bail-out would wrap my body around the tail. The dive flaps would rip-off. There was one thing left to try, the trim tabs, I was now past 500 knots. I rolled the trim tabs way back and pulled steady on the stick. My late good pilot friend Bud Penniman had broken the control cable several months earlier in his SB2C. Thank God it responded. It leveled out a few 100 feet above the ground. Do not do split-s in a SB2C.

Joe E. Hudson, 15.11.2011

I was gunner in this airplane on the first carrier plane raid on Tokyo. Flew subsequent strikes on Chichi Jima, Iwo, Okinawa, Kyushu, and other Japanese territory. I never heard my pilot make a critical remark about the Helldiver. An airplane that will get you safely back on carrier CV15 after all this will only get praise from me.

paidui, 18.06.2011

Also, in the event of a botched landing, a Grumman airplane would usually hold together better, giving the crews had a better chance of surviving, while pranged Helldivers often crumpled up. Small wonder he preferred to fly into combat in the Avenger!

, 18.06.2011

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

HUGH GRIGSBY, 15.05.2011


Klaatu, 24.04.2011

My father was a US Navy combat cameraman during World War II and flew combat missions in SB2Cs from USS Yorktown, USS Hornet and USS Belleau Wood. He also flew combat missions in TBFs, PBMs, PBYs, PB2Ys and even flew six missions in AAF B-29s out of Saipan.

The SB2C was, without question, his LEAST favorite airplane. After seeing the numerous take-off and landing accidents that occurred on the Yorktown, he dreaded to fly in them. He said that, on take-off, TBFs and Hellcats would make a short run and then lift gracefully into the air. However, in contrast, the SB2Cs would get to the end of the flight deck and simply DROP OFF; then, a few seconds later, you might see them struggling for altitude - maybe! Also, in the event of a botched landing, a Grumman airplane would usually hold together better, giving the crews had a better chance of surviving, while pranged Helldivers often crumpled up. Small wonder he preferred to fly into combat in the Avenger!

Ben Beekman, 19.03.2011

I'm just finishing a great book by Lt. Harold Buell titled "Dauntless Helldivers". Buell flew both the SBD and the SB2C during WW2 from most of our carriers available at that time in the Pacific: Enterprise, Yorktown, Hornet etc. as well as serving some time with the Cactus air force. Any of you former carrier fliers out there would appreciate this book. It's filled with names of people you may remember. You probably can buy a copy via the internet or get it at (or through) your library.

Edwin Baumeister, 26.02.2011

I flew the Beast many hours on and off of carriers. It was a great airplane. Granted, it was unstable. You had to fly it all the time. So what. What else were we there for? I get tired of all this BS about a great airplane. The SBD could not compare to it.

C. Reed Rollins, 18.02.2011

In the posting by Ron Lapp, 22.06.2010, he asked the question as to what happened to the shell casings when firing the twin 30 caliber guns in the rear cockpit. Well, it caused quit a job to clean up after landing because what casings didn't fly out of the plane by the gun's recoil, would wind up on the deck. We spent lots of time cleaning the guns after any firing hops and I remember the trouble removing the casings. But we had the same problem after gunnery practice in the rear seat of the SBD Dauntless in our opertional training. That was a great plane.

Winston E. Jewson, 02.11.2010

We in US Marine Corps VMSB-132 reforming at MCAS El Toro (Santa Ana, Califonia)in early 1944(from Guadalcanal deployment in WWII)turned in our SBD-5s for the SB2C-1As on 7 July 1944. (As Sqdn Exec) my log book shows I flew the assigned SB2C-1As exclusively until my deployment to WESTPAC in November 1944. It was not a delightful experience. I recall Lindbergh visiting us one day in summer 1944 and flight demonstated what he could do with the plane. It gave us more confidence about this ugly beast plane after flying the trusty and capable SBD-5s for so long.

In WESTPAC Marshall Is. with VMSB-331, as CO, we picked up our first SB2C-4E (BuNo.20639)on 27 February at Roi and operated the squadron of 31 of these SB2C-4E from Majuro daily bomb strikes against Mille, Maloelap, Wotje, etc. We lost Capt Modesset(sp)USMC at Maloelap. Leading the second section in the bombing dive he went straight-in.

Immediately after this flight I sent a dispatch to CNO &
BuAer resulting in the grounding world-wide of all SB2C aircraft pending investigation. About 10 (?) days later CNO directed ALL bolts on SB2C-4E acft be given up-graded torgue specs. This correction allowed us to resume satisfactory flight ops.

In the following month after the A-bombs and Japanese surrender, I was privileged to be in the U.S. Navy surrender party at Maloelap. There on the beach I saw the complete horizontal stabilizer of an SB2C-4E with no apparent damage. Leading this tragic flight I reconstructed in my mind what it must have been for MODESSET to be in a near-vertical bombing and having no control of his aircraft with a horizonal stabilizer being torn away from aircraft, leaving no control for pull-up, but straight-in! I surmise the stabilizer came off of the aircraft before the crash and wafting-down to to waves and subsequently broaching onto the beach. The Japanese had not evidently not touched it. Appearance-wise it was like ordering from Navy Supply. one NEW SB2C-4E horizontal stabilizer. Another chilling experience for me. /s/ Winston E. Jewson, Col. USMC (Ret). Age 94, good health, Orange County, CA 2 Nov. 2010. WWII, Korea, et al.

ed clexton, 28.10.2010

My Dad, LCdr E. W. Clexton, USN, an aero grad from MIT in 1931, and one of the first Navy Aeronautical Engineering Duty Officers (AEDOs) was on the design team in BuAer for this plane (before WWII the Navy designed the planes and the companies built them; today companies design and build them). He had also been on the design team for the Curtis biwing SBC-4 Helldiver.

Much has been said (below) about the "Beast" and from personal conversations with pilots who flew her, much is true about her poor handling qualities, but .....
many have also told me that the longer range and greater payload (than the SBDs) outweighed the difficulties - and - she held together in combat better so many returned to the ship in spite of being shot up pretty bad.

I have a chromed model he was given.

E. W. Clexton Jr
VAdm USN (Ret)
200 missions Vietnam to include the first strikes against NVN torpedo boat bases in the Tonkin Gulf in Aug '64
Test Pilot School Class 42
Test pilot for F4B/J/K*/M** Phantom IIs and F4 Spin Project
* Royal Navy (RN)
** Royal Air Force (RAF)
Commanding Officer, VF-102 Diamondbacks, USS El Paso, LKA-17, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69
COMCARGRU 3, NAS Alameda w/ USS Enterprise, CVN-65, USS Nimitz, CVN-68, USS Carl Vinson, CVN-70 and associated Air Wings 9, 8 and 15 assigned.
Retired 1993 as Deputy Commander in Chief, US Naval and Marine Forces Europe, in charge of all US ships, aircraft and bases from northern Norway to the Suez Canal, including the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranian.

1-20 21-40

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Reliability was poor and handling was tricky, leading to the nicknames 'Beast' and 'Son of a Bitch Second Class' (from SB2C).

The fuselage was lengthened and the tail enlarged following stability problems with the prototype.

Most Helldivers had two 20mm cannon in the wings and twin 7.62mm guns in the real cockpit. An internal bay could carry 907kg of bombs or other stores.

From the SB2C-4 model onwards both the upper and lower wing dive-brakes were perforated. This reduced buffering during the dive.

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