The Douglas SBD Dauntless

United States of America
United States of America

side view front view under view

Obsolence was written all over the Dauntless when it first entered service. Yet, it turned out that the Dauntless was also one of the decisive warplanes of World War 2. It possessed bad/mediocre performance, and lacked maneuverability. The reason why it is so famous is because the Dauntless was responsible for turning a near loss at the Battle of Midway (June 1942) into a resounding victory: they destroyed 3 of the 4 Japanese carriers participating in the battle. The US triumph at Midway switched the initiative from the Imperial Japanese Navy to the US Navy, and the Dauntless was mostly responsible for this.

Versions:

Further pictures:

Douglas SBD Dauntless in full flight
Douglas SBD Dauntless in full flight

 

Technical data on the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless
Powerplant 1 × Wright R-1820-60 radial, rated at 1200 hp (894.59 kW) Role during war
  • Scout Bomber
Length 33 ft 1.25 inch Height 13 ft 7 inch
Empty weight 6675 lb Operational weight 10885 lb max
Wing Span 41 ft 6.38 inch Wing Aspect ratio 5.31
Wing Area 325 sq ft Service ceiling 25530 ft
Maximum speed 255 mph at 14000 ft Cruising speed 185 mph at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate 1,700 ft per min Range 1115 miles typical,
1565 miles max
Fuel capacity internal 258.1 Imp gal (310 US gal) Fuel capacity external 96.6 Imp gal (116 US gal), equally distributed over 2 underwing droptanks
Machine guns
  • 2 × 0.50 inch mounted in the upper nose, firing through propeller
  • 2 × 0.30 inch trainable rearward firing in rear cockpit
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 2,250 lb:
  • 1 × 1,600 lb or 1,000 lb bomb centerline
  • 2 × 325 lb bomb underwing
Torpedoes/rockets -
Crew 2: pilot, observer/gunner Naval or ground based Naval
First flight (prototype) 23 July 1938 Operational Service Late 1940 - 1959
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company Number produced 5.937 total, 3.019 this version
Metric system
Length 10.09 m Height 4.14 m
Empty weight 3028 kg Operational weight 4937 kg max
Wing Span 12.66 m Wing Aspect ratio 5.31
Wing Area 30.19 m² Service ceiling 7782 m
Maximum speed 410 km/h at 4267 m Cruising speed 298 km/h at optimum altitude
Initial climb rate 518 m per min Range 1794 km typical,
2519 km max
Fuel capacity internal 1.173 liters Fuel capacity external 439 liters, equally distributed over 2 underwing droptanks
Machine guns
  • 2 × 12,7 mm mounted in the upper nose, firing through propeller
  • 2 × 7,62 mm trainable rearward firing in rear cockpit
Cannons -
Bomb load Up to 1021 kg:
  • 1 × 726 kg or 454 kg bomb centerline
  • 2 × 147 kg bomb underwing
Torpedoes/rockets -

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

Different versions of the Douglas SBD  Dauntless
Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless The prototype, XBT-2, was a project from the Northrop company. When the Northrop company was absorbed into the Douglas Aviation Company the first production type was renamed SBD-1. The prototype saw a lot of stability problems, and performance wasn't something to be proud of. A miscalculation of the strengths and weaknesses of the Japanese aircraft by the US military top meant that the SBD-1 was considered to be good enough for it's job
The SBD-1 was powered by 1 × Wright R-1820-32 radial, rated at 1,000 hp (746 kW). It had an additional 25 Imp gal (30 US gal/113 liters) compared to the XBT-2, and was armed with 2 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) machine guns in the nose and 1 × 0.3 inch (7,62 mm) in the rear cockpit. The bombload was 1,000 lb max (454 kg) fitted on an underfuselage hardpoint, and with a crutch to swing it clear from the propeller disk. An additional 2 × 100 lb (45 kg) could be carried under the wings.
Number built: 57
Douglas SBD-1P Dauntless Converted SBD-1's for pure Photo Reconnaissance duties.
Number converted: 8
Douglas SBD-2 Dauntless First increased fuel capacity to the SBD-5 standard (258.1 Imp gal/310 US gal/1173 liters), then reduced again when later aircraft received self-sealing tanks (216.5 Imp gal/260 US gal/984 liters). Armament was reduced to 1 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) in the nose to reduce the weight in an effort to counter the performance loss because of all modifications. Length was 32 ft 2 in (9.80 m), empty, normal and maximum take-off weights were 5,652 lb, 8,643 lb and 10,360 lb (2.564 kg, 3.920 kg and 4.699 kg) respectively, max level speed of 256 mph (412 km/h) at 16,000 ft (4.875 m), cruising speed 148 mph (238 km/h) at optimum altitude, max range of 1,370 miles(2.205 km) on a scouting mission, typical range of 1,225 miles (1.971 km) on a bombing mission, initial climb rate of 1,080 ft (329 m) per minute, and service ceiling of 27,260 ft (8310 m).
Number built: 87
Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless Converted SBD-2's purely for Photo Reconnaissance duties.
Number converted: 15+
Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless Review of war operation on the European front revealed that the Dauntless lacked a number of vital features. The SBD-3 made those shortcomings good, and was ordered in an increasing number. It featured full self sealing tanks, armor protection for the crew and vital parts, 2 × 0.50 inch (12,7 mm) forward firing guns, 2 × 0.30 inch (7,62 mm) trainable rearward firing guns, removal of flotation devices and other skinning. Its powerplant was 1 × R-1820-52 Cyclone radial, rated at 1,000 hp (746 kW), and it had a length of 32 ft 8 in (9.96 m), empty and maximum take-off weights of 6,345 lb and 10,400 lb (2.878 kg and 4.717 kg) respectively, max level speed of 250 mph (402 km/h), cruising speed of 152 mph (245 km/h) at optimum altitude, max range of 1,580 miles (2.543 km) on a scouting mission, typical range of 1,345 miles (2.165 km) on a bombing mission, initial climb rate of 1,190 ft (363 m) per minute, and service ceiling of 27,100 ft (8260 m)
Number built: 585
Douglas SBD-3P Dauntless Converted SBD-3's purely for Photo Reconnaissance duties.
Number converted: 47
Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless Upgraded SBD-3, with a 24-volt in stead of a 12-volt electrical system, and a new type of propeller.
Number built: 780
Douglas SBD-4P Dauntless Converted SBD-4's purely for Photo Reconnaissance duties.
Number converted: 16
Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Identical to the SBD-4, but with an uprated powerplant: 1 × Wright R-1820-60 radial, rated at 1,200 hp (895 kW). See details above
Number built: 2.964
Douglas SBD-5A Dauntless SBD-5 meant for use only operating from ground. It had USAAF instrumentation and radio equipment, and lacked the arrester hook.
Number built: 60
Douglas SBD-6 Dauntless Based on the SBD-5, but with a different powerplant: 1 × Wright R-1820-66 radial, rated at 1,350 hp (1007 kW), and other selfsealing tanks. Later aircraft were also fitted with an ASV (Air to Surface Vessel) radar.
Number built: 450
Douglas A-24 Identical to the SBD-3, this version was ordered by the USAAC. As such it had USAAC instrumentation and radio. It saw action in the Dutch East Indies, but was unsuccessful, and most A-24's were relegated to training duties on the continental US.
Number built: 168
Douglas A-24A Identical to the SBD-4, but with USAAC instrumentation and radio.
Number built: 170
Douglas A-24B Identical to the SBD-5, but with USAAC instrumentation and radio.
Number built: 615
Douglas DF-24B Converted to be the drone controller of the QF-24A.
Number converted: 1
Douglas F-24A Redesignated A-24A in 1948.
Redesignated aircraft
Douglas F-24B Redesignated A-24B in 1948.
Redesignated aircraft
Douglas RA-24A Conversion to a radio operated drone with recording equipment.
Number converted: 1
Douglas QF-24A Redesignated RA-24A in 1948 (so it survived).
Redesignated aircraft
Douglas Dauntless DB.Mk I for the RAF 9 SBD-5's were evaluated by the RAF, receiving the Dauntless DB.Mk I designation. The tests revealed that it was wholly obsolete, and no further orders followed.
Number transferred: 9

Remarks:

The Battle of Midway deserves some more information then depicted above. Early in the war the US had cracked the Japanese secret codes, and they knew that the Japanese were planning to attack Midway. This little island held a strategic important position in the Pacific, and the one who controlled Midway could dictate the battle in the Pacific by controlling vital supply lines. As such, there were 2 US Task Forces on strength (Enterprise, Yorktown and Hornet) to intercept the Japanese fleet, consisting of amongst others 4 carriers (Akagi, Soryu, Kaga and Hiryu). When they were spotted, the US navy immediately launched all bombers and torpedo bombers they got. The Yorktown withheld a number of the fighters, because of the possibility that the Japanese would strike back before the fighters returned, and would thus be able to attack a mostly undefended Task Force.
Most of the Torpedo bomber squadrons were destroyed before they even reached the Japanese fleet, and the situation was dire for the US Navy which had lost a great part of all striking aircraft, without any results. However, 3 SBD squadrons came in flying high and unseen because of the combat taking place to get 1 TBD squadron through (which failed, by the way). In 5 minutes during which the SBD's could attack unhindered, they were able to destroy 3 carriers, the Akagi, Soryu and Kaga.
During two counterattacks the Japanese were able to destroy the Yorktown, but were in their turn hunted by the US forces. The Hiryu was later found, and sunk by SBD's.
Noted must be also the fact that SBD's sank more ships in the Pacific than any other weapon or plane.

Strengths:

Weaknesses:

 

 

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