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Curtiss SB2C Helldiver - United States, 1943

Detailing the development and operational history of the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver Carrier-Borne Dive Bomber / Reconnaissance Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 1/4/2018; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  Curtiss SB2C Helldiver  
Picture of Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

Though initially not as well-liked by her crews as the Douglas Dauntless was, the Curtiss Helldiver went on to sink more ship tonnage than any other aircraft in World War 2.

The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was a rather unassuming dive bomber / reconnaissance aircraft serving throughout World War 2 beginning in 1943. Originally designed in a competition to replace the aging SBC biplane series, the SB2C faced off against Brewster's entry - the XSB2A Buccaneer - with the SB2C coming out the eventual winner. The SB2C went on to replace the aging Douglas SBD Dauntless in service with the United States Navy.

The Helldiver was conceived as a metal, low-monoplane wing design fielding a crew of two seated in tandem within a long cockpit - the pilot in the forward area and the tail gunner in the aft. The SB2C, incidentally, became the third in a long line of aircraft to bear the moniker of "Helldiver" and would go on to earn a substantial combat record in the war. The aircraft was fitted with a single Wright-powered engine at the extreme forward of the fuselage powering a three-bade propeller. The fuselage sported straight wings with a tapered trailing edge and rounded tips. The torpedo-like fuselage became something of a hallmark of the series and a surely identifiable design feature. The design was specifically engineered with a large-area tail assembly for improved handling.

The US Navy Helldiver was produced with a reinforced and retractable undercarriage as well as an arrestor hook for carrier operations. The system would eventually graduate to field high-explosive, unguided rockets under the wings along with its traditional load of bombs in the arsenal. Ordnance could be held in the internal bomb bay (including a single torpedo) as well as along two underwing hardpoints. Standard armament included a pair of fixed forward-firing 20mm cannons (4 x 12.7mm heavy machine guns in earlier production models) in the wings and a pair of 7.62mm M1919 Browning air-cooled machine guns in the rear cockpit.

Picture of the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
Picture of the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

The one and only XB2C-1 prototype crashed shortly after its maiden flight in November of 1940, with the accident occurring in February of 1941. The system was revised with larger-area tail surfaces, increased offensive armament and self-sealing, increased-capacity fuel tanks. The new design was put into full production with the United States Navy and United States Army (with the latter as the A25-A "Shrike") but suffered from production delays. The Helldiver officially saw her first taste of combat on November 11th, 1943 from the deck of the USS Bunker Hill in strikes against Japanese targets at Rabaul. In action, the early generation SB2C-1 Helldiver left much to be desired. It would not be until the arrival of the SB2C-4 that the system would finally peak.

The US Army Air Force A-25A saw limited use and would later be transferred to some units of the US Marine Corps as a traditional land-based dive bomber / reconnaissance aircraft. These Helldivers would earn the designation of SB2C-1A and would be relegated as trainers never to see combat. The SB2C as a series would see several variants that would improve upon the former model by increasing output power, fuel efficiency and armament. By war's end, the SB2C would become a legend in its own right. Total production peaked at around 7,140 examples.

Despite the nature of the new design - proving larger, but at the same time, faster than the Dauntless it replaced - the Helldiver proved to have some tough handling characteristics that did not liken her to her crews. The aircraft earned such derogatory nicknames as "Son of a Bitch, 2nd Class" in reference to her "SB2C" designation. Regardless, the Helldiver proved a most potent mount and was able to carry a greater ordnance payload than her predecessor.

Operators of the type included the United States, Australia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Thailand and the United Kingdom. The SB2C Helldiver became the last dive bomber produced for the United States Navy. The British Fleet Air Arm received about 26 Helldivers and assigned the designation of "Helldiver I" to their aircraft. After evaluation brought about the poor handling characteristics, none of these aircraft were fielded in combat. Canadian companies Fairchild-Canada and Canadian Car & Foundry both assisted Curtiss in production of the aircraft.

Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver Specifications

Service Year: 1943
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Type: Carrier-Borne Dive Bomber / Reconnaissance Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Curtiss Aircraft - USA / Canadian Car & Foundry; Fairchild Canada - Canada
Total Production: 7,140

Structural (Crew, Dimensions, Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 2
Overall Length: 36.65 feet (11.17 meters)
Overall Width: 49.70 feet (15.15 meters)
Overall Height: 14.76 feet (4.50 meters)

Weight (Empty): 10,580 lb (4,799 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 16,288 lb (7,388 kg)

Power / Performance (Engine Type, Top Speed)

Engine: 1 x Wright R-2600-20 Double-Cyclone air-cooled radial engine developing 1,900 horsepower.

Maximum Speed: 226 knots (260 mph; 418 kph)
Maximum Range: 1,012 nautical miles (1,165 miles; 1,875 km)
Service Ceiling: 26,401 feet (8,047 meters; 5.00 miles)

Armament / Mission Payload

2 x 20mm cannons in the wings
2 x 7.62mm Browning M1919 machine guns on a flexible mount in the rear cockpit.

Up to 2,000lbs of ordnance in the internal bomb bay including 1 x Mark 13-2 torpedo.
Up to 500lbs of ordnance across two underwing hardpoints.

Global Operators (Customers, Users)

Australia; Canada; France; Greece; Kingdom of Italy; Portugal; Thailand; United Kingdom; United States

Model Variants

SB2C "Helldiver" - Base Series Name
Model 84 - Series Development Designation
X2B2C-1 - Prototype Series Designation; single prototype lost during testing.
SB2C-1 - Series Designation; fitted with Wright R-2600-8 Cyclone 14 radial piston engine delivering 1,700hp.
A-25A - US Army Series Designation of the base SB2C model series; limited service numbers eventually reassigned to USMC.
SB2C-1A - USMC land-based role of the former US Army A-25A models.
SB2C-1C - 2 x 20mm cannons in place of 4 x 12.7mm machine guns in wings.
SB2C-3 - Fitted with 1,900hp R-2600-20 powerplant.
SB2C-4 - Fitted with underwing rocket rails and bomb racks.
SB2C-4E - Radar-equipped Helldiver
SB2C-5 - Increased fuel capacity; 2 x 20mm cannon with 2 x 7.62mm machine guns.
SBF - Helldiver models produced by Fairchild.
SBW - Helldiver models produced by Canadian Car & Foundry.
Helldiver I - British Royal Navy designation of SBW-1B models built in Canada; 28 examples.

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