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Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

On loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless

Aircraft Development

Twenty-one different tail and rudder configurations and 12 different aileron profiles were tested with the Dauntless in order to find a satisfactory combination.

The aircraft did not have folding wings and therefore was built as small as possible. When viewed from above, the plane had a particularly broad but short wing, which was helpful in air-to-air combat. It was very rugged and could take a lot of punishment from both overloading and enemy action.

Handling Capabilities

The SBD was slow, but it was very stable in a dive and maneuverable enough to shoot down enemy fighter planes. On a dive bombing mission, the pilot would generally attack at about 70 degrees, the lower flap depressed 42 degrees and the upper rose to 37.5 degrees. Bombs were released at 1,500-2,000 feet, giving the Dauntless enough remaining room to pull out of the dive.

Combat Tactics

Whenever possible, SBDs worked in teams. The targets were usually enemy ships and it was difficult to place a bomb on target if the attacks were individually made. The planes would try to coordinate the attack so the ship could be caught going in one direction or another.

On a traditional bombing mission, the planes would fly in two divisions of six each, three and three. (Attacking in threes gave more machine gun fire power.)

Did You Know?

Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless pre-restoration work
  • SBD stands for "Scout Bomber Douglas." Many of the men who flew and maintained them often jokingly called them "Slow But Deadly."
  • The Air Zoo's SBD arrived at the museum in November 1993, still dripping water from Lake Michigan, where it was recovered. The restoration work began on this aircraft shortly after and continued until May 11, 2002 when it was dedicated. A photo of what the aircraft appeared like when the Air Zoo received it is to the right.
Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program