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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

The Last Steps…On the Moon

 

Apollo 17 was the final manned mission to the lunar surface.  The mission launched on December 7, 1972 from the Kennedy Space Center.  This was the Saturn V rocket’s first night launch and would be a mission that would set many records that hold to this day. The crew under the command of the legendary Gene Cernan consisted of Ron Evans (Command Module Pilot)  and Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module Pilot).   Cernan and Schmitt spent 3 days exploring the lunar surface, longer than any other men.  Cernan made the final footsteps on the Moon in December 13, 1972.  Before making his final steps and returning to the Lunar Module Cernan said, “…I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.” May we soon return.

“It’s not just the end.  Were not putting our rockets in the barn, and closing the door.  We are just beginning to understand and accept the challenges that this universe has for us…” -Gene Cernan USN (Ret)  (Gemini 9A, Apollo 10, and  Apollo 17)

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Return of the “Meat Chopper”

meatchopper6The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) owns a Republic P-47N Thunderbolt painted as “Lil’ Meaties Meat Chopper”.  The original “Meat Chopper”  served with the 464th FS/507th FG based on Ie Shima in 1945.  In 2002 , the CAF’s P-47 was involved in an accident.  The aircraft caught on fire during a maintenance test flight and made and emergency landing at Albuquerque International Airport in New Mexico where it had taken off from not long before. (See NTSB report)  The aircraft was substantially damaged and subsequently placed in storage for many years.

This year as a part of the CAF’s 12 Planes of Christmas Campaign, they announced that meatchopper5they were holding a fundraising campaign for this P-47.  The CAF’s goal is to conduct further structural surveys of this Thunderbolt to determine what it will need for its return to flight.  “…Tremendous work has been completed in restoring the aircraft to flying condition, with the fuselage repaired, a new canopy and windshield fitted, the control surfaces rebuilt and painted, and a replacement wing located and purchased.”

Donate to help this Meat Chopper get back in the air and honor those who fought for our freedom!

Photo Credit: Commemorative Air Force (CAF)

Project Cutlass Vought F7U Restoration

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The front end of Vought F7U Cutlass BuNo 129554 in storage at Paine Field. Photo Credit: Al Casby

A Vought F7U Cutlass restoration is on its way to fly again one day, thanks to the efforts of Project Cutlass.  Al Casby is the owner of two F7U Cutlass airframes, which are BuNo 129622 and BuNo 129554.  Mr. Casby has owned 622 since the early 1980’s, but it is a “badly damaged partial aircraft, usable for parts only”, he recently acquired 544 which previously belonged to Tom Cathcart and is currently stored at Paine Field in Washington State.  Mr. Casby hopes to bring 544 from Paine Field to Phoenix, Arizona to begin the restoration that he has been waiting to carry out for 44 years.   This is no easy task.  With a 21 foot width, and a high tail height, transportation is a difficult task. The aircraft cannot be completely disassembled without risking compromising the integrity of the airframe.  Mr. Casby stated, “Vought strongly suggested that neither the tails or the center-section wings ever be removed from the aircraft, going so far as to implore that should that need arise the airframe should be stricken.  There is no corrosion noted anywhere that would indicate a need for removal of these, so I do not want to remove them just to effect transport.” Have no fear, these challenges will definitely be overcome.  Check back soon for more updates!

If you know of a transportation company that would be willing to donate their time to help Project Cutlass’ efforts please contact us!

The project recently acquired a complete lighting set for the Cutlass in New Old Stock condition.  Some things that the Mr. Casby is looking for consist of:

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The back end of Vought F7U Cutlass BuNo 129554 in storage at Paine Field. Photo Credit: Al Casby

-Parts or components bearing a CV10- part number prefix

-Any Westinghouse J-46 engine parts or components

-F7U-3/-3M canopy perspex and windscreen plexiglass panels

-BF Goodrich G-3-721-2 wheel (1)

-Goodyear 9531077 wheel (2)

-Goodyear 9530987 Brake Assy (2)
Please contact us if you know of or are in possession of any of these parts or of any F7U Cutlass parts and help get this rare jet back in the sky.

Hangar 11: P-40 and Hurricane Update

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Hangar 11 Collection’s P-40M “LuLu Belle” in flight. Photo Credit: Platinum Fighters Sales

The Hangar 11 Collection based out of North Weald in the UK recently listed their pristine examples of the Hawker Hurricane IIb and Curtiss P-40M for sale through Platinum Fighters Sales.  Although this is a big surprise for Warbird enthusiasts in the UK, Peter Teichman at the Hangar 11 Collection explained that,  “it isn’t a quick process to sell aircraft of this type, so I am not counting on any disruption to our 2016 season. We are very relaxed sellers and are under no pressure until the right home is found for the P40 and Hurribomber”.  Mr. Tiechman said that the reason for the sale was in order to focus their resources toward the completion of their rare MK IX Russian Spitfire PT879, which the collection needs hangar space for.  Since Mr. Tiechman began the Hangar 11 Collection in 1999, not only has he amassed an impressive collection of Warbirds, but a collection that has set the standard of high quality restorations.  The Warbird Watcher will keep you up to date as more information becomes available and as the futures of the collection’s Hurricane and P-40 are decided.

Credit: Hangar 11 Collection and Platinum Fighters

Article Written By: Thomas Reilly

A Terror of the Pacific, Hellcat Pilot Lt. Bill Gorden

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Lt. Bill Gorden in his Navy dress whites. Photo Credit: MAAM

Many of us remember where we were when we heard that the World Trade Center Towers fell in Manhattan. The Attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 was a similar event for the Americans who came to be known as the Greatest Generation. Bill Gorden was 18 years old when he heard President Roosevelt announce to the nation, that the United States had been attacked for the first time since the War of 1812. Mr. Gorden knew that, being of military age, he had two options; to wait for the draft; or, to enlist in the service. He chose the Navy Air Corps, and was taken into training by the Navy in February of 1942. He was sent to a school in Worcester, Ohio, where he spent six weeks learning basic navy skills such as communicating with ships. He did not receive a uniform until almost three weeks into his training, due to a shortage at the time.

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USS Hancock Photo Credit: MAAM

After Basics school, Mr. Gorden was accepted into training as a Naval aviator and began his flying in the Navy at the controls of Piper Cubs and Aeroncas while he was stationed in Kalamazoo for about four weeks. Following his first taste of flying he was transferred to Iowa where he went through preflight and primary flight school flying Navy Stearmans. Upon completion of this training, he was stationed at NAS Corpus Christi where he flew the North American SNJ, the Navy version of the famous T-6 Texan. While at Corpus Christi, the main focuses were formation flying, communications with flags from the cockpit, and bombing and shooting practice. Mr. Gorden received his instrument training in the SNJ in Beeville, Texas. After completing his training, he received his wings at Corpus Christi, and was ready to take the controls of a frontline fighter. He picked up his F6F Hellcat in Daytona Beach, Florida. Mr. Gorden flew his Hellcat for about three weeks, and practiced the skills necessary to land on an aircraft carrier on land. Shortly after he successfully made his first trap on an aircraft carrier in his Hellcat. With some time off to briefly visit his family in Detroit, he received orders to report to San Diego and was assigned to squadron VF-7.

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An F6F Hellcat on final approach to the USS Hancock CV-19 in 1944 Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Upon shipping out aboard the U.S.S. Hancock, CV-19, and Essex Class Aircraft Carrier, Mr. Gorden spent the last 6 months of the war flying strafing, escort, and bombing missions in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan. The tactic that they used was to pursue Japanese planes and do their best to get home themselves. Mr. Gorden had countless close calls and had hits on his aircraft, but was never shot down during his time in the Pacific Theater. At the conclusion of the war, Mr. Gorden left the Navy, and rejoined and was a part of the Navy Reserves as a “Weekend Warrior” shortly after. In the reserves he flew Hellcats on the weekend for four years where he and his squadron worked on bombing, strafing and formation flying. When Mr. Gorden moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, he was forced to resign from his squadron at the rank of Lieutenant. Shortly after his retirement, The United States became embroiled in Korea. He had a family to raise but he seriously considered signing up again before his squadron, VF-7 shipped out to Korea. Mr. Gorden has not taken the controls of an aircraft since.

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A Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat from VF-7 making and emergency landing after takeoff from the USS Hancock on July 6, 1944 Photo Credit: crash-aerien.news

Mr. Gorden is one of the finest examples of the Greatest Generation, who answered his country’s call in one of its greatest times of need. He fought against the Japanese during their most vicious point in the War as they were being pushed back to mainland Japan. Mr. Gorden is a true American hero. Upon questioning him about whether or not he and his squadron mates knew that they were a part of history , he stated, “you just wanted to keep someone from killing you (and just) think about what you needed to do”. The heroes response…

 

 

Interview and Article By: Thomas Reilly