A Helldiver Story- The National Air and Space’s Museum’s Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver


The National Air and Space Museum’s Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver.

Every Warbird has stories to tell.  The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Chantilly, Virginia has many aircraft with enormous history.  From the Boeing B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” which was made famous for dropping the first ever atomic bomb, to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird the top secret stealth strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed in the 1960’s, every turn at the NASM opens a door to the past.  One such aircraft in the collection, the Curtiss Helldiver, is no exception.  It is one of the newest restorations completed at NASM, and the first aircraft to be restored at the world-class Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.The Curtiss Helldiver’s story begins in 1939 when it was ordered by the U.S. Navy, to replace the Vought SB2U Vindicator.  The Helldiver’s first flight took place on December 18, 1940, and  the prototype was lost eight days later due to stability issues.  The first production Helldivers rolled of the new Curtiss aircraft plant in Columbus, Ohio in June of 1942.  Although the Helldiver was in production, it encountered many issues during carrier trials in the beginning of 1943, most of which ended in crashes.  This earned the Helldiver respectable nicknames such as the “Big Tailed Bastard” and  “the Ensign Killer”.  In spite of its rough beginnings, the Helldiver played major roles in the Battle of the Philippines and the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

At the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Helldiver which NASM’s recreates the one flown by Lt. Donald D. Engen.  Lt. Engen sank the Japanese carrier the Zuikaku during the battle.  Engen would later go on to be awarded the Navy Cross for his role in the sinking of the Japanese Battleship Hyuga, during which he was forced to fly under the bow of the ship after dropping his ordinance on it.  Engen also played a role in the sinking of the Japanese heavy cruiser Nachi.  Donald Engen retired from the U.S. Navy as a vice admiral and became an FAA executive, before becoming the Director of the National Air and Space Museum.  Shortly thereafter he was tragically killed in a glider accident in the summer of 1999.


Curtiss Cadettes, Betty Maskett and Jackie Davis standing in front of the National Air and Space Museum’s freshly restored Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver which they helped build during WWII.

After a complete restoration, the National Air and Space Museum’s Helldiver rolled out of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar painted in Donald Engen’s Helldiver’s paint scheme in spring of 2014, 15 years after his death.  In attendance at the unveiling ceremony were two Curtiss Cadettees.  The two women, Betty Maskett and Jackie Davis, worked for Curtiss Aircraft.  Betty Maskett’s job was empenage manufacturing and Jackie Davis was in charge of quality control during WWII, while the men were off at war.  In fact, Betty and Jackie helped to build the museum’s Helldiver 70 years before at the Curtiss Factory.  A moment of history captured in the making!

Historical Side Note:


Original U.S. Navy Helldiver in VB-92 to carry ‘208’ markings, shortly before in crashed into the Pacific Ocean after overshooting the arresting wire on the carrier deck or a wire break on landing

This Curtiss Helldiver is the original Helldiver in VB-92 to carry the markings of ‘208’.  It is assumed that the pilot overshot the arresting wire on the deck, or it broke on landing.  The National Air and Space Museum’s Helldiver was the replacement aircraft for the one above.  This fact was confirmed by Scott Wiley one of the restoration experts at the museum that helped to restore this Helldiver.


National Air and Space Museum, Curtiss Helldiver. Restoration full speed ahead, March 12, 2014 -The Reilly Collection

Historical Credit:

-National Air and Space Museum

-The Nation’s Hangar- Aircraft Treasures of the Smithsonian (Pages 124-125)

-Scott Wiley- Docent and Restoration Expert at the National Air and Space Musuem

Photo Credit:

-National Air and Space Museum

-John Bretschneider (Navy Times)

-U.S. Navy

-The Reilly Collection


*This article was originally posted on The Warbird Watcher on May 17, 2015

Vintage Aviation Museum Prepares to Take Wing


Restoration work being preformed on B-17E “Desert Rat”

There is a new Warbird museum on the block.  The Vintage Aviation Museum may be young in age but not in ambition.  Sean O’Brien is the founder and president of the Vintage Aviation Museum.  Mr. O’Brien has worked in multiple museums, including flying on tour with a B-17.  These experiences have not only prepared him to start his own museum but have also been the driving force behind the new opening.  “I got to a point where I realized that  in order to fulfill my passion and vision for vintage aircraft, warbirds, and all of the history that surrounds them I needed to start my own museum” says Mr. O’Brien. He began planning the Vintage Aviation Museum in 2014, and launched it in January 2016.  Since opening the doors, Mr. O’Brien says, “…the response has been overwhelming”.  

The Vintage Aviation Museum is busy at work.  The museum will plans to move its headquarters to Salt Lake City, Utah hopefully in 2017 when its museum facilities are completed.  The new facility will include state-of -art restoration facilities and museum spaces to be used for educational purposes.


B-17E 41-2595 “Desert Rat”

The Vintage Aviation Museum joined forces with the Desert Rat B-17E Restoration Team, that has been working to restore B-17E 41-2595 since it was discovered in Maine decaying in a scrapyard in the 1980’s.  Mr. O’Brien has been following the B-17Es progress for a number of years and when he was in a position to help, decided to join forces with the Desert Rat team to complete the restoration sooner.  The time table for the B-17E Desert Rat’s completion is 3 to 5 years, however it is dependent on funding.  When the VAM facilities are completed in 2017, part of Desert Rat will be moved to Salt Lake City, Utah for restoration, while the remainder of the plane will stay in Marengo, Illinois to be completed.  Once Desert Rat’s restoration is completed, the entire airframe will be transported to Salt Lake City for final assembly.  After completion “Desert Rat” will be on tour across the United States as a flying museum and will be based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.


Boeing B-17C Flying Fortress

In addition, the Vintage Aviation Museum and Desert Rat teams are joining forces to build an airworthy B-17C.   The B-17C build is in its early stages, parts are beginning to be collected.  The pace will not increase on the B-17C build until either the museum’s volunteer force increases or Desert Rat is returned back to flying condition.  Although building a B-17 can be done more quickly than restoring one, the thousands of rivets incorporated into the airframe make construction time consuming.  Once the B-17C is completed it will join B-17E “Desert Rat” on tour.

Mr. O’Brien thinks that flying these aircraft is necessary, “…so that people can see them operate in their natural element”.  VAM restoration and museum facilities will be open to the public to be used as an educational tool and share the stories behind their planes.  Mr. O’Brien believes, “It’s not just about the planes, it is also about the factory workers, the people that gave up their time to help out…” with the war effort.  The Vintage Aviation Museum wants to give people the opportunity to learn history first hand from the veterans that experienced it.


Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress

“We try to do things where we are a little outside of the box, we don’t want to be like everyone else…we want to create our own path… and be able to reach people not just local to the museum but across the country”, says museum president Mr. O’Brien.  An example of this being the “Night With Dick Cole” event that the museum hosted.  Unlike other events, VAM kept the event to a group of 100 people in order to allow people to personally interact with Mr. Cole, the last surviving Dolittle Raider and have their questions answered from a man who is walking and talking history.

Keep your eyes open for the Vintage Aviation Museum’s future projects, which include:

PV2 Harpoon D-Day C-47 F9F Panther
BT-13 Valiant A-26 Invader B-25D Mitchell
TBF Avenger

Interested in donating to or volunteering to  restore the B-17C and B-17E “Desert Rat” to flying condition? Contact the Vintage Aviation Museum and check out their Facebook Page

Photo Credit:

-Vintage Aviation Museum

-Desert Rat Restoration Team



Wooden Wonder Down Under

mossie tv959

Mosquito TV959 nearing completion at Avspecs in New Zealand

The Flying Heritage Collection, owned by Paul Allen-of Microsoft fame-is preparing to welcome a new aircraft to the collection.  The aircraft is a De Havilland Mosquito TV959.  TV959 was built at the Leavesden De Havilland factory in the U.K. and delivered to the RAF in 1945.   After fifty year of absence, this Mosquito is getting ready to take back to the skies.

Mosquito TV959 was built in August 1945, too  late to see combat.  From 1945 to 1963 this


Mosquito TV959 prior to restoration.

aircraft was transferred through 12 squadrons in the RAF.  At the completion of its military service it appeared in the film Squadron 633 before being placed on display at the Imperial War Museum.  In 1992 TV959 was purchased by The Fighter Collection in Duxford  and a restoration to airworthy condition commenced.  Almost 25 years later, TV959 is now owned by Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington and its restoration is nearing completion at Avspecs Ltd. in New Zealand.


Jerry Yagen’s Mosquito KA114 at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend 2016.

Avspecs Ltd. restored Jerry Yagen’s Mosquito KA114, which was completed in April 2013.  TV959 will be the second Mosquito restoration to roll out of the Avspecs shop. .  The Warbird Watcher will be standing by with updates on Mosquito TV959’s first flight following its completion.




Photo Credit:

-Avspecs Ltd.

-The Reilly Collection

History courtesy of Warbird Registry






A Great Tribute to the B-17 Flying Fortress and Her Crews

Great News From the Collings Foundation


Former Evergreen Aviation Museum’s B-17G 44-83785 “Shady Lady” in flight.   It has joined the Collings Foundation and will return to the sky again in 2017. Photo Credit: Evergreen Aviation Museum

The Collings Foundation has just released exciting news.  They have acquired a number of aircraft from the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.  The aircraft include a second B-17G for their collection “Shady Lady”, a P-38L Lightning, a Bf-109 G-10, and  a second P-40 Warhawk.

The Collings Foundation plans to have the Evergreen B-17 flyable by 2017. There will not be two B-17’s on the Wings of Freedom Tour, but rather will give the foundation ample time to do necessary work on their B-17G “Nine-O-Nine”, that they are not able to preform due to time constraints on tour. This is the same idea that the Collings Foundation had in mind when they purchased a TF-51D Mustang restoration project not too long ago.  The TF-51D when completed will take the place of the foundation’s TP-51C “Betty Jane” while necessary work is done on it.


The Collings Foundation’s newly acquired P-38 Lightning. Photo Credit: Evergreen Aviation Museum

The Collings Foundation also acquired a beautifully restored Lockheed P-38L Lightning with very flight time logged since its restoration.  Although the Collings Foundation, currently has its hands full with restoration projects, the plan is to have this P-38 flying sometime in 2016.  In order to get it airworthy again, Rob Collings President of the Collings Foundation says that, “the P-38 will undergo some mechanical rehabilitation, just from sitting so long, and also some cosmetic…”, work to bring it to modern Warbird standards.  Also to add some of the finishing touches, that were not previously applied. Mr. Collings also annouced, that the P-38 when completed will wear a natural metal finish.  Mr. Collings finally announced that there are no plans to install a second seat, that this P-38 will remain a single seat aircraft.


Collings Foundaton’s new Bf-109 -10, it formerly belonged to the Evergreen Aviation Museum. Photo Credit: Warbird Registry

Also from the Evergreen Aviation Museum the Collings Foundation also acquired a Messerschmitt Bf-109 G-10.  The foundation has “…not decided whether or not it will be a flyable aircraft”, says Mr. Collings, due to some issues it has.  Reagrdless its restoration will be completed.


A Curtiss P-40K Warhawk , formerly owned by the Evergreen Aviation Museum, now owned by the Collings Foundation. Photo Credit: Evergreen Aviation Museum

The Collings Foundation’s final aircraft that it acquired from the Evergreen Aviation Museum was a P-40K Warhawk, which is likely to fly again in the future.

Stay tuned for a complete report on Collings Foundation’s aircraft restorations, coming soon.

Check out the original interview with Rob Collings by our friends over at WarbirdRadio.com here

Do You Have Japanese WWII-era aircraft blueprints or engineering drawings?


From The Flying Heritage Collection:

The Flying Heritage Collection is working to assemble missing technical drawings of some of Japan’s most iconic combat aircraft and engines.  Many of the sets of drawings were lost in the last months of the war or destroyed soon afterwards.  The FHC will provide a finder’s fee for delivery of full (or nearly full) sets of drawings of these famous machines.  Do you hold vintage WWII-era blueprints or engineering drawings of the following?

Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter

Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bomber

Nakajima Ki-43 “Oscar” fighter

Mitsubishi Kasei 11 engine

Nakajima Sakae 12 or 21 engine

Nakajima HA-115 engine

Tell us about the Japanese plans that survived the war.  Contact the Flying Heritage Collection at: blueprints@flyingheritage.com

Photo Credit: http://www.seattlepi.com/business/boeing/article/Newly-acquired-Japanese-Zero-set-to-fly-Saturday-3619660.php

Solent Sky Museum in Southamton U.K. Robbed

Robbers have stolen some rare artifacts from the Solent Sky Museum in Southampton U.K, including a one of a kind cigarette case which belonged to RJ Mitchell designer of the famous WWII Spitfire. The museum has stated, “It is possible that the offenders may try and sell these items on; please contact us if you see anything for sale that you think may have been stolen from the museum, or if you have any other information to assist the investigation.”



Support B-25J Sandbar Mitchell

Support the Sandbar Mitchell B-25J restoration by voting on the attached link, and the restoration will have a chance to receive a $25,000 grant.


Connecticut Air and Space Center

The Connecticut Air and Space Center located in Stratford, Connecticut, opened its doors in 1998 as a non-profit museum. Since that time, the museum has acquired many aircraft and currently they have several great additions under restoration. The museum is itself a floor to ceiling restoration project. The Connecticut Air and Space Center is a static museum that opens its doors to those who are 18 and older. The museum plans to open its doors to all members of the general public when a vintage Curtiss hangar under restoration as we speak is completed allowing families and children to visit and learn about aviation. Andrew King Director of the museum said, “If we can’t get the kids in the museum then we have to get the museum out to the kids.” It all starts with little kids who want to see aircraft, and the spark that is made when they see them, lasts a lifetime.
Restoration is no simple matter. The planes under the museum’s care date back to the first half of the last century and parts are scarce. The museum does its best to keep its planes and components as original as possible, but with the lack of spare parts in modern day, often parts must be duplicated from other existing parts or must be made from factory blue prints. In the event that parts must be new built, visitors are told this as the museum does not try to hide this fact. In addition, some of the equipment that is used to restore these planes back to original condition is also vintage. An example is the WWII era lathe that was torn down and restored to pristine condition over a summer by museum volunteers.

One of the many aircraft that the Connecticut Air and Space Center has under restoration is a Goodyear built FG1-D Corsair Bu. 92460. This corsair was built in late July of 1945, but never saw combat. It served many USMC training groups before it was put into reserves at NAS Litchfield Park. Eventually it was sold to El Salvador’s Air Force and was a part of their aerobatic team. Around 1957 this aircraft was in an accident but the extent of damage is unknown because of the lack of records. The corsair was placed in a junkyard and was a picked by a USMC Corsair pilot by the name of Nick Mainero who had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross during the war. He wanted to have a corsair in the area to honor the men and women of Stratford and Bridgeport Connecticut who built Corsairs during the war. When it arrived in Bridgeport, it was placed on a pole at the Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport and remained there for 37 years. In 2005 talks of getting the plane down to be restored were beginning, but different factions could not agree on what the best future of the aircraft would be. Eventually in 2008 the plane was removed from the pole and restoration soon began. The condition was worse than anyone could have anticipated. Bolts were put through the main spar and the plane was essentially rotting from the inside out. In 2010 Andrew King joined the restoration and was put in charge of the project full time, eventually becoming director of the museum. Around this same time Ed McGuinness took the position of head mechanic/engineer of the project. The center section and main spar were shipped down to Texas to Ezell Aviation. Ezell Aviation restored the main spar and the center section and fixed other parts that needed to be fixed. They saved the museum between 3-5 years of work. Ezell Aviation did $190,000 worth of work in one year. This work was donated to the museum by the owner of the Brewster Corsair project. It has since been shipped back to Connecticut, it is currently being re-assembled by Ed McGuinness and Mark Corvino.

“The Corsair is a static restoration, being a gift from the President El Salvador to the City of Bridgeport.” It will be a tribute to the men and women of Stratford and Bridgeport who were devoted to the war effort. Along with Ezell Aviation, many other mostly local people have donated to the project so that it can be finished and displayed. The museum is currently in collaboration with other corsair restorations, including the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s newly acquired race #94 corsair. Parts are being traded back and forth so that they can be duplicated and replace parts on the plane that are beyond repair. New landing gear and the tail gear where donated by Howard Purdue, who did restorations of corsairs and sold parts. He was killed tragically in an accident in his Grumman Bearcat. The restoration is on-going with 6 full time volunteers who work on it 2-3 days per week, and progress is ongoing. Andrew King, Director of the museum projects, says that the “restoration will be completed by 2015”. Currently over $250,000 is invested in the restoration of the corsair. If there were not volunteers working on the plane, costs would be about 1.5 million dollars.

The next major restoration project that the museum is working is an S-60 Skycrane, prototype which was built by Sikorsky in 1957 and first flew in 1958. This helicopter is very historically significant being that it is a prototype and that it is the last aircraft that Sikorsky personally worked on. This helicopter did everything that Sikorsky wanted, but lacked power and lifting capacity. In 1960 turbines were instated which gave the S-60 four times the lifting power. In 1961 it was involved in an accident with NASA on takeoff. NASA changed the control systems and they became too sensitive and the helicopter rolled over and was practically destroyed. Director of the Connecticut Air and Space Center, Andrew King, offered this comparison, “every time that the pilot moved the stick two inches, it was like he was moving it two feet!”. After the investigation of the crash, Sikorsky gave it to the New England Air Museum (NEAM) in the hope that it could be restored. It sat in NEAM’s storage facility for almost 50 years. Eventually NEAM decided that they would dispose of the airframe as they had no interest in restoring the S-60. It was acquired by the Connecticut Air and Space Center (CASC). The restoration began in 2010 and currently the tail fuselage has been put back together but still must be skinned, the cockpit is 75 percent complete, and there is one spar left that still needs to be restored. This project is a massive undertaking as the helicopter is 90 feet long and has a rotor span of 80 feet long. When the S-60 was picked up from NEAM it was missing the tail section. This is likely because when a tornado hit NEAM in 1979 the tail was in bad condition and was scrapped. The CASC must now rebuild the 17 feet tall tail section from scratch. When finished, it will hold nearly 850 pounds of tail rotors and transmissions. Even though the museum has blueprints, it will still be quite difficult to do. Director Andrew King said that “$6,000 worth of aluminum will be used in the reconstruction of the tail”. The estimated completion date of the S-60 is 2017 because currently they do not have a hangar large enough to house the helicopter during reassembly.

Restoration of a T2V-1/F-1 Sea Star which is the USMC version of the T-33 Shooting Star is also underway. The restoration is being carried out by Dave Phipps who is a former crew chief of a T-33 in the late 1950’s. CASC also has a Sikorsky H-19 helicopter which needs a fresh coat of paint before it will be out on display. In addition, they have two Korean War Sikorsky H05S helicopters. One is being restored for the USMC and the other for their own display. The H05S that the museum is restoring saw combat in the Korean War. The museum’s H05S started with just the cab of the helicopter and pats are being duplicated off of the USMC H05S, to make it a complete airframe. The CASC has been duplicating parts off of the USMC H05S for nearly 8 years. Anything that was not part of the cab section must be made from scratch. There were only 90 of these built and only 10 that survive today, most of which are in museums.

The last aircraft that they have under restoration is a T-38 Talon which is a trainer jet that is still in service today. It was gifted to CASC by AMARC via the GSA, which is an aircraft storage and repurposing facility. In the past couple of months work has been done on the cockpit. When it came from AMARC it was missing an instrument panel and also the nose gear. Nose gears are often missing because, as a trainer jet that is still being used today, they are taken off when they are put in storage because the tough beating that these jets take on landings. A new nose gear will be made and the T-38 will be put on display in the near future.
The volunteers that work at the museum consist of former Sikorsky machinist, workers from Lycoming, and other walks of life. The CASC currently have about 45-50 active volunteers and about 15 of them are at the museum working two days or more a week. Many of the volunteers are retirees in there 70’s and early 80’s. The CASC does not employ anyone, so everyone is a volunteer. Even with the number of people and the fact that they are volunteers the restorations are long and expensive. Director Andrew King said, “For every 1,000 people I talk to 300 people visit the museum, out of the 300 I get 1 volunteer. 1 out of every 1,000 people. Over the course of a year only about 1-2 of the volunteers who join stay, because its hard work and not glamorous like people think.
On January 25, 2014 the museum will be hosting a big display, to gain awareness. A local brewery in Stratford, Connecticut has dedicated a beer to the S-60 and call it “Igor’s Dream”. Although the CASC will not receive any of the proceeds from the brewery they will be accepting donations, so make sure you donate to keep restorations underway. The museum relies on donations and volunteers, don’t be afraid to help out.

For more information about the museum or to donate/ volunteer please contact Andrew King, Director of the Connecticut Air and Space Museum
Email: director@ctairandspace.org
Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ctairandspace
Website: http://cascstratford.wordpress.com/