Profile Publications No. 124 The Curtiss SB2C-1 Helldiver

Details o f the twin mounting for two •30 calib re guns, which provided the H e lld rive with tail and beam protection. (Photo: U.S. Navy) the planned production scheme effective since changes would result in far greater production delays than would be experienced with the normal aircraft industry methods. Before the SB2C-1 contract was two months old, the Navy had increased its total quantity on order to 578. In the late winter of 1941, production of the SB2C-1 was scheduled for the Columbus, Ohio plant. There the SB2C-i's would be produced alongside S03C's, concen­trating Curtiss-Wright's Airplane Division production for the Navy in one location. The Columbus plant (now used by North American Aviation) was one of several aircraft plants being built by the Government to support the expanded Defense Programme. As the early months of 1941 went by, the programme progressed, but not without problems. The problems of the XSB2C-1 flight testing have already been related and meeting production schedules depended on successfully demonstrating a satisfactory X prototype, or at least solving all of its problems for the production design. In addition to the flight test problems, failures occurred in static testing of both wing and fuselage under the X contract. Improvements were incorporated in the pro­duction design including increasing the wing-mounted guns from one to two -50's in each wing and adding leakproof wing fuel tanks and cockpit and turret armour. By June it was evident that delivery of the first production airplane would be delayed at least until February 1942. An overweight condition of some 300 pounds was also anticipated. During the Summer and Autumn both the overweight and delivery delays increased. While the training programme for the production workers at Columbus moved ahead satisfactorily, continual redesign of the SB2C-1 on the basis of flight test results, and the job of tooling up a whole new plant proved to be far beyond what had been envisioned at the outset. On 1st October, along with other Navy combat aircraft, the SB2C-I received a name: Helldiver, a name long associated with Curtiss dive bombers. In November, the engineering group for the SB2C was shifted to the new Columbus plant. Pearl Harbour, 7th December, 1941, placed anew sense of urgency on the SB2C programme. Then came the crash of the XSB2C-1. The first four SB2C-l's were assigned special priority. Their construction was to be expedited on a hand built basis so that flight testing and trials could get underway. Subcontracting was initiated to increase production, and the large forgings were redesigned to reduce the need for the overcommitted heavy presses. In the Spring, Curtiss-Wright was informed that 3,000 additional SB2C's would be ordered for the Navy, the contract change being signed in June. Meanwhile radar (ASB), IF F(AB /AD BK )and new radio (A TC and A R B )installations were designed and mocked up for approval. In May 1,000 Helldivcrs were ordered as SBW 's from Canadian Car and Foundry, Fort William, Ontario through War Supplies Ltd., representing the Canadian government. Four hundred and fifty of these were allocated to the Royal Navy. All drawings for production of these aircraft were supplied by Curtiss. The first SB2C-1, 00001, was rolled out in June and prepared for first flight. Other than its new camouflage paint, and a slightly taller vertical tail, it showed little change in appearance from the XSB2C-1 just before it crashed, in spite of its major redesign for production. First flight was on 30th June 1942. During July, flight testing was extensive and results were reported as generally satisfactory in terms of engine cooling, performance, and stability and control (except for weak longitudinal stability). Preliminary demonstration manoeuvres brought about some control system changes, and dive tests began. During August 00002 joined the flight programme for stability and control testing, being transferred to Anacostia in September for performance, engine cooling, and stability and control testing. Changes were developed and installed to correct problems that were uncovered during these tests. In October 00002 went toN A F Philadelphia for arrested landing and catapult tests, while 00004 went to the Aircraft Armament Unit at Norfolk, Virginia for gunfiring and bombing tests. 00003 was modified to have hydraulic cylinders operating the flaps directly instead of their being operated through Left: Final appearance o f the perforated dive flaps, as installed on 00007 when she became a C u rtiss engineering test aircraft. (Photo: Curtiss-Wright via U.S.N.) Right: Torpedo installation was extensively tested on the S B 2 C-I, but never used in service. This view shows 00013 with bomb bay doors removed and replaced by torpedo fairing panel the aft portion folded up to clear the torpedo fins, and folded down to complete the fairing surface after the torpedo was dropped. (Photo: U.S. Navy) 5
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