Divers have stumbled across the wreckage of a WW2 aircraft off the coast of Florida that is believed to be of a Curtiss Helldiver SB2C.
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was a carrier-based dive bomber aircraft produced for the United States Navy during World War II. It replaced the Douglas SBD Dauntless in US Navy service.
The wreck is lying upside down in 200 feet of water off Jupiter in Florida. From initial estimates, it is relatively intact however the landing gear is retracted and the propeller blades are bent. The identity of the pilot is currently unknown , nor whether the pilot managed to bail out before impact as the Plane and cockpit remain buried in the sea bed.
“There is only one left in the world that flies,” said Randy Jordan, the dive-boat operator who found the wreck, which appears on video to be in nearly intact condition. “Nobody knew it was there, we just stumbled upon it,” he told the local CBS12 news. “It’s like finding a treasure.”
The wreck remains the property of the US Navy and restricts divers from any disturbance to a sunken Navy ship or aircraft wreck. In order to do so requires a permit under the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C, there were three crashes off the coast of Florida in Sept. 1944 in which the planes were either lost at sea or missing. The planes were engaged in training flights and the accidents weren’t because of enemy action.
The Helldiver was developed to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless; it was a much larger aircraft able to operate from the latest aircraft carriers of the time and carry a considerable array of armament and featured an internal bomb bay that reduced drag when carrying heavy ordnance. Saddled with demanding requirements set forth by both the U.S. Marines and United States Army Air Forces, the manufacturer incorporated features of a “multi-role” aircraft into the design.
The Model XSB2C-1 prototype initially suffered teething problems connected to its R-2600 engine and 3-bladed propeller; further concerns included structural weaknesses, poor handling, directional instability and bad stall characteristics.In 1939, a student brought a model of the new Curtiss XSB2C-1 to the MIT wind tunnel. Professor Emeritus of Aeronautical Engineering Otto C. Koppen was quoted as saying, “if they build more than one of these, they are crazy”. He was referencing controllability issues with the small vertical tail.
The first prototype made its maiden flight on 18 December 1940. It crashed on 8 February 1941 when its engine failed on approach, but Curtiss was asked to rebuild it. The fuselage was lengthened and a larger tail was fitted, while an autopilot was fitted as a result of the aircraft’s poor stability. The revised prototype flew again on 20 October 1941, but was destroyed when its wing failed during diving tests on 21 December 1941.
Large-scale production had already been ordered on 29 November 1940, but a large number of modifications were specified for the production model. The size of the fin and rudder was enlarged, fuel capacity was increased, self-sealing fuel tanks added and the fixed armament was doubled to four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the wings, compared with the prototype’s two cowling guns. The SB2C-2 was built with larger fuel tanks, improving its range considerably.
The program suffered so many delays that the Grumman TBF Avenger entered service before the Helldiver, even though the Avenger had begun its development two years later. Nevertheless, production tempo accelerated with production at Columbus, Ohio and two Canadian factories: Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. (Canada) which produced a total of 300 (under the designations XSBF-l, SBF-l, SBF-3 and SBF-4E) and Canadian Car and Foundry which built 894 (designated SBW-l, SBW-3, SBW-4, SBW-4E and SBW-5), these models being respectively equivalent to their Curtiss-built counterparts. A total of 7,140 SB2Cs were produced in World War II.
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