Quick Facts

Douglas Dauntless SBD-2P 

From Watery Grave to History Saved 


Previously on Loan from National Naval Aviation Museum 

NOW Located at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum 

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, as America entered World War II, the Douglas’ SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber served as one of the U.S. Navy’s premiere aircraft. The SBD-2P may be described as a rare bird, for during the war, Douglas Aircraft built only 14 models of this variant to serve as reconnaissance aircraft. The SBD—designed by John Northrop and Ed Heinemann—commonly carried heavy armaments for dive bombing attacks, but the 2P version achieved higher speeds equipped with cameras instead of ordnance.  

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Previously on display at the Air Zoo: Douglas Dauntless SBD-2P

This SBD-2P Dauntless dive bomber #2173 began its journey in 1941 and served in the Pacific before joining the Carrier Qualification Training Unit (CQTU) fleet at Glenview, IL. Aboard Lake Michigan training carriers Wolverine and Sable, the SBD aided in teaching pilots how to land on a carrier in motion for nine accident-free months. But in February 1944, Lt. John Lendo (1919-1944) made an emergency landing after losing engine power and crashed into the icy lake. Lendo survived the crash. Before its 2009 recovery—championed by Fred Turner, Chairman of the Board of McDonald’s—the SBD spent 65 years on the floor of Lake Michigan.  

Now on display at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, this SBD underwent a full restoration by our skilled Restoration Department and through the community involvement of Air Zoo visitors and students of all ages, who are welcomed to sand, rivet, and clean this special aircraft.


History Info  

Before the Air Zoo: The SBD’s Military Journey 
Before its Air Zoo era, the Douglas SBD-2P bureau number 2173 met myriad experiences. Douglas completed this aircraft in the spring of 1941 under contract number 65969. At the time, production costs for an SBD ran about $38,000. The factory equipped the SBD with a Wright R-1820-32 9 cylinder air-cooled radial engine, which produced 1000 horsepower.  

On March 28, 1941, San Diego received the SBD into its Battle Force aircraft pool. By April Fools Day, the SBD took on its first assignment with VS-6 (Scouting 6) on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6). Time aboard the Enterprise proved brief due to the SBD facing damage almost as soon as it arrived. During a flight, pilot Lt. James E. Vose, Jr. and gunner RM2c Joseph F. DeLuca made an unlevel landing. The SBD’s nose smashed into the carrier deck. The accident caused an undercarriage collapse, bent flaps, and wing damage. Placed in storage on the hanger deck, the damaged SBD awaited repair as the Enterprise moved forward to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  

Becomes a Rare Reconnaissance Variant 
On July 11, 1941, Pearl Harbor’s Battle Force received the SBD and a month later, returned the aircraft to San Diego for repair. At that time, the SBD underwent a transformation to become one of only 14 SBD-2P variants. The 2P suffix made the aircraft a photoreconnaissance version. Ready to fly and collect photographic data, the aircraft returned to Pearl Harbor’s Battle Force on the first week of 1942. By mid-February, the SBD boarded the USS Yorktown (CV-5) alongside eight other SBDs and 20 F4F Wildcats shipped from Pearl Harbor to the South Pacific.  

By early March of 1942, stowed on the USS Yorktown, the SBD stood ready for use as a reconnaissance aircraft. Battles which occurred during the SBD’s carrier stay in the South Pacific include the Salamaua-Lae campaign (March 8-13, 1942), Invasion of Tulagai (May 4, 1942), and the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 7-8, 1942)—the first aircraft carrier battle. During Coral Sea, a Japanese bomb to the flight deck caused an explosion that killed crewmen and damaged the USS Yorktown five decks deep. Records suggested that the explosion destroyed the SBDs stored onboard, which may explain why the Navy struck the SBD from its inventory at the time. One account argues that a recordkeeping error referred to a crash and described the SBD at rest on the sea floor. Ultimately, with some record-based reevaluation, the Navy identified that the SBD remained viable and by July 31, 1942, reinstated bureau number 2173. Making yet another comeback, the SBD earned assignments with a variety of operational units until its 1943 Great Lakes training mission. 

From Trainer to Lake Floor to the Air Zoo 
On April 17, 1943, the SBD followed a new career path that would later find it on the floor of Lake Michigan and even later, on the floor at the Air Zoo. The aircraft served as an active trainer with the Carrier Qualification Training Unit at Chicago’s NAS Glenview in Chicago, Illinois. Over Lake Michigan’s protected waters, the SBD contributed to the over one-hundred thousand carrier landings on the USS Wolverine (IX-64) and USS Sable (IX-81) and almost eighteen thousand pilot qualifications undertaken during WWII.   

The Carrier Qualification Program 
To build the aircraft carriers that operated in Lake Michigan during WWII, builders removed the upper superstructures from two retired Great Lakes excursion ships. Then, they added five-hundred-foot flight decks as well as islands. The coal-fired, steam-powered carriers utilized their original side-paddlewheel propulsion systems.   

Accidents and Qualification Numbers 
The program noted more than 200 accidents and lost 128 aircraft to Lake Michigan. Records indicate that eight pilots lost their lives during the carrier qualification program. 

Some question why takeoff and landing quantities for carrier pilot qualification differ in stories about the carrier qualification at Glenview. Simply put, the shifts in qualification numbers changed throughout WWII. Applicable in many military training procedures, requirement expectations and measurables shifted with the demands of war. For example, as overseas battles required more pilots, America pressed to ramp up its forces. The less qualifications required through training meant the more pilots available. Thus, the carrier training’s early program required more successful takeoffs and landings than its later iterations. This explains discrepancies in the numbers related to training qualification.  

Lt. Lendo and an Icy Ditch 
The SBD under restoration at the Air Zoo flew safely for 10 months until a fateful February day over chilly Lake Michigan. On February 18, 1944, Lt. John Lendo climbed into the SBD’s cockpit as part of his carrier qualification. A former flight instructor at the Navy Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, Lendo arrived with over 100 hours of experience flying SBDs, as well as over 1,500 accident-free flying hours to his credit. On that icy day in 1944, according to his official accident record, Lendo, “…turned into the downwind leg of the landing circle when his engine quit… there was a gradual loss of RPM and finally complete stopping… The pilot received instruction in the use of alternate air for icing conditions in the lecture by a qualified landing signal officer of the unit.”  

With no engine, Lendo found himself forced to ditch the SBD into Lake Michigan. Fortunately, Glenview monitored all training activities and provided rescue supports to pilots undergoing carrier qualification. Aid came by way of a support vessel, which saved Lendo’s life. The SBD sank to the lake floor where it remained for six decades. The pilot completed his carrier qualification training program and went on to serve with VF-45 onboard the USS San Jacinto (CVL 30). Ten months after he survived the icy waters of Lake Michigan, Lendo went missing in action while flying an F6F-5 Hellcat off Manila in the Philippines. According to some accounts, enemy fire shot Lendo down.  

Air Zoo Restoration and the SBD-2P 
After 65 years submerged under the waters of Lake Michigan, the SBD felt the air again when salvaged on June 19, 2009. The storied aircraft arrived at the Air Zoo’s celebrated Restoration Center on July 1, 2016 for a full restoration. Almost every part of a restoration project airplane must be cleaned, evaluated, repaired, rebuilt, or replaced before it can be reinstalled onto the airplane. In the case of this SBD, about 90% of the original parts will be salvaged and reused. It warmed our hearts when Lt. Lendo’s nephew, Dr. Lendo, and his wife, visited the Air Zoo to help with the SBD’s restoration efforts. Dr. Lendo helped attach valve covers to the aircraft’s cylinder heads. What an outstanding experience to reconnect Lendo’s family with an aircraft so significant to the pilot’s life story.  

About the Air Zoo Restoration Team 

The Air Zoo Restoration Team officially began in 1990 with 15 volunteers. Today, Restoration Manager, Greg Ward, leads a team of over 80 active volunteers. Volunteer Team Leaders guide their teams as they work on major aircraft structures such as the fuselage, wings, engine, cockpits, and landing gear. Well known in the aircraft restoration community, the Air Zoo Restoration facility holds acclaim for its very high standards, attention to detail and accuracy. 

Some Restoration Volunteer Team members are retired, and some are still working. Men, women, college students, and high school students actively work on the airplane every week.  Many come from business or trade backgrounds and some are A&P mechanics. Still, many come from fields totally unrelated to aircraft.  Everyone offers value to our restoration efforts! 
Your Invitation to Join! Interested in joining the team and working on historic aircraft like the SBD?  Ask any of the volunteers or visit our volunteer information page to learn about how you can become an Air Zoo Restoration Team Volunteer. 

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