The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

United States of America
United States of America

side view front view under view

Curtiss was already a supplier of Scout and Dive bombers to the US Navy when they designed the model 84 for them. The Helldiver, also called Beast or Two-Cee, was meant to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless. It was a big plane, especially since it was meant to operate from aircraft carriers, and could carry a considerable warload.

The prototype was the best choice of two evils: it rivaled with the Brewster Model 340. The Model 84 suffered teething problems of the R-2600, the 3-bladed propeller, structural weaknesses, poor handling, directional instability and bad stall characteristics. Even after the prototype crashed in february 1941, Curtiss was asked to rebuild it with revised structures and shapes. Also this second prototype version was lost when in December 1941 the Helldiver was pulled out of a dive and the starboard wing and tailplane failed. Even then the need for such an aircraft was so high that the USAAF ordered 900 land based version aircraft, called the A-25 Shrike, a Navy order already stood from October 1940. The program had altogether suffered so much that the Grumman TBF Avenger entered service even before the Helldiver did, while it's development had started 2 years later. Nevertheless, production tempo was accelerating, even though the Helldiver had still such structural problems that they were forbidden to make dive bombings in clean conditions (one of it's main tasks!).

All aircraft were fitted with a camera in the rear cockpit for scouting and observation purposes.

Versions:

Further pictures:

Curtiss SB2C with folded wings on the deck of a carrier
Curtiss SB2C with folded wings on the deck of a carrier

 

Technical data on the Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver
Powerplant 1 × Wright R-2600-8 Cyclone 14 radial, rated at 1700 hp (1267.33 kW) Role during war
  • Dive Bomber
  • Scout Bomber
Length 36 ft 8 inch Height 13 ft 1.5 inch
Empty weight 10363 lb Operational weight 15075 lb typical,
17162 lb max
Wing Span 49 ft 8.6 inch 22 ft 6.5 in folded Wing Aspect ratio 5.86
Wing Area 422 sq ft Service ceiling 24200 ft
Maximum speed 281 mph at 12400 ft Cruising speed 158 mph at 1500 ft
Initial climb rate 1,750 ft per min,
Climb to 10,000 ft in 7 min 42 sec
Range 550 miles typical,
1375 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 329 Imp gal (395 US gal), plus provision for one auxiliary jettisonal weapons bay tank of 108 Imp gal (130 US gal) Fuel capacity external Up to 96 Imp gal (116 US gal) in 2 drop tanks
Machine guns 2 × 0.3 inch trainable rearward-firing in rear cockpit, 1000 rounds each Cannons 2 × 20 mm Hispano M2 fixed forward-firing in wing leading edge, 400 rounds each
Bomb load Up to 3,000 lb, in a lower fuselage weaponsbay rated 2,000 lb and 2 wingmounted hardpoints rated 500 lb. Possible weapons bay ordnance options consists of:
  • 1 × 1,600 lb bomb
  • 2 × 1,000 lb bombs
  • 2 × 500 lb bombs
  • 1 × 650 lb depth charge
  • 2 × 325 lb depth charge
Wingmounted ordnance consisted of 2 × 500 lb, 2 × 250 lb, or 2 × 100 lb bombs, or even 2 × 325 lb depth charges.
Torpedoes/rockets 1 × 2,167 lb Mk 13-2 torpedo
Crew 2: pilot, observer/gunner Naval or ground based Ground and Naval
First flight (prototype) 8 December 1940 Operational Service December 1942 - mid 1950's
Manufacturer Curtiss Wright Corporation, Airplane Division Number produced 7.200 total, 778 this version
Metric system
Length 11.18 m Height 4 m
Empty weight 4701 kg Operational weight 6838 kg typical,
7785 kg max
Wing Span 15.15 m 6,96 m folded Wing Aspect ratio 5.86
Wing Area 39.2 m² Service ceiling 7376 m
Maximum speed 452 km/h at 3780 m Cruising speed 254 km/h at 457 m
Initial climb rate 533 m per min,
Climb to 3050 m in 7 min 42 sec
Range 885 km typical,
2213 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1495 liters, plus provision for one auxiliary jettisonal weapons bay tank of 492 liters Fuel capacity external Up to 439 liters in 2 drop tanks
Machine guns 2 × 7.62 mm trainable rearward-firing in rear cockpit, 1000 rounds each Cannons 2 × 20 mm Hispano M2 fixed forward-firing in wing leading edge, 400 rounds each
Bomb load Up to 1361 kg, in a lower fuselage weaponsbay rated 907 kg and 2 wingmounted hardpoints rated 227 kg. Possible weapons bay ordnance options consists of:
  • 1 × 726 kg bomb
  • 2 × 454 kg bombs
  • 2 × 227 kg bombs
  • 1 × 295 kg depth charge
  • 2 × 147 kg depth charge
Wingmounted ordnance consisted of 2 × 227 kg, 2 × 113 kg, or 2 × 45 kg bombs, or even 2 × 147 kg depth charges.
Torpedoes/rockets 1 × 983 kg Mk 13-2 torpedo

Here is a quick overview of all different versions, without the full technical specifications:

Different versions of the Curtiss SB2C  Helldiver
Curtiss SB2C-1 First production model. Pressed into service because of an urgent need, but were deemed unsuitable for combat. They never saw action.
Number built: 200
Curtiss SB2C-1A Used as an advanced trainer, these aircraft were obtained from the USAAF (designation A-25).
Number built: 410
Curtiss SB2C-1C The Model 84A had its 4 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) wingmounted guns replaced by 2 × 20mm cannons for ground attack. This version was also fitted with extra fuel tanks in the wings to improve the radius. See details above
Number built: 778
Curtiss SB2C-3 The Model 84E saw extensive improvements, like the Wright R-2600-20 Cyclone radial powerplant, rated at 1,900 hp (1416 kW), and driving a four bladed propeller. Another feature was the incorporation of the APG-4 automatic low-level bombing system
Number built: 1112
Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver This version (the Model 84F) was the first version that was fully effective in it's intended roles. It had potions of the flaps perforated to improve handling characteristics in the dive, and could carry 8 x 5 inch (12,7cm) unguided rockets on two underwing hardpoints.
Number built: 2.045
Curtiss SB2C-4E Helldiver Identical to the SB2C-4, but with an APS-4 radar for nocturnal operations. These were SB2C-4's that were modified
Number converted: unknown
Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver The final version (Model 84G) was in effect an SB2C-4 with increased fuel capacity and a number of minor changes. It had an empty and maximum take-off weight of respectively 10,580 lb (4.799 kg) and 15,918 (7.220 kg). The maximum speed was 260 Mph (418 km/h), a max range of 1,805 miles (2.905 km), and ceiling of 26,400 ft (8.045 m)
Number built: 988
Fairchild Aircraft Canada SBF-1 Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-1C
Number built: 50
Fairchild Aircraft Canada SBF-3 Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-3.
Number built: 150
Fairchild Aircraft Canada SBF-4E Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-4E's
Number built: 100
Canadian Car & Foundry SBW-1 Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-3
Number built: 40
Canadian Car & Foundry SBW-1B Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-3 built for the British Fleet Air Arm. The order originally stated production of 450 aircraft, but after deliveries had started the British were very unhappy about the handling characteristics and overall capabilities. The British designation was Helldiver Mk I
Number built: 26
Canadian Car & Foundry SBW-3 Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-3
Number built: 413
Canadian Car & Foundry SBW-4E Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-4E's
Number built: 270
Canadian Car & Foundry SBW-5 Helldiver Canadian built SB2C-5's
Number built: 86
Curtiss A-25A Shrike/Helldiver USAAC interest in the aircraft was increased by reports from the German invasions with the use of the Junkers 87 Stuka divebomber. The A-25 was basically a SB2C-1 without the arrestor hook and without the possibility to fold it's wings. It had revised armor, and a pneumatic tailwheel, amongst others. Curtiss adopted it's Model 84 to S84, later Model 84B. After the Battle of Britain revealed the true effectiveness of the Junker 87 Stuka against well-equiped air forces, the USAAF lost it's interest. The aircraft were then all comitted to training purposes and as target tugs
Number built: 900
Curtiss RA-25A Shrike/Helldiver The new designation of the A-25A Shrike after they were comitted to training and as target tugs
Redesignated aircraft
Curtiss Helldiver Mk I for the FAA Canadian built SB2C-3, designated SBW-1B, and ordered by the FAA. These aircraft were never pressed into service.
Transferred aircraft

Remarks:

The slow, painfull and long development period from prototype to the first operational version meant the Helldiver was considerably outdated when it first entered service. The resulting aircraft was declared unfit for combat. The fact that the aircraft even existed was that the competition (Brewster) had an even worse product, and the need for such aircraft was very high, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

 

© by Frans Bonné, 2000
Last revision: 9/20/00