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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Here are some Warbirds flown by Irishmen in World War II.  Thank you for your sacrifice and for protecting our freedom.


2nd Lt. Gerald Devine, 350th FS 353rd FG, P-51D Mustang 44-14673 LH-I “Mad Irishman”

irish lassie.jpg

Lockheed P-38J 42-67842 “Irish Lassie”


1st Lt. Gilbert O’Brien, 357th FG, P-51B “Shanty Irish”

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)

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



Hurricane 501 “The Aeroplane That Saved Our Nations”

Hurricane-501-WW2-Figther-Plane-Hawker5Hurricane 501 is a British organization that is working to restore Hurricane V7497 a Battle of Britain veteran of 501 Squadron to airworthy condition.

Hurricane “V7497 is a Hurricane Mk 1, manufactured in mid 1940 by Hawker Aircraft Ltd. Flown operationally at the very height of the Battle of Britain from the famous fighter station, RAF Kenley, East London, the aircraft was lost during an operational patrol on 28th September over Sutton in Kent”.  In fact V7497 had only flown seven sorties before being shot down over Kent, England on September 28, 1940.  hurricane501-2

Hurricane V7497 was discovered during an aviation archaeology expedition, the remains were recovered, and the decision was made to begin restoration to airworthy condition.  When completed V7497 will be made up of only period correct parts, including those that are hard to find.

Currently Hurricane V7497 is being restored by Hawker Restorations in the U.K., and its Rolls Royce Merlin Mk.III is being overhauled by Eye Tech Engineering based in Suffolk.     Hurricane 501 hopes to have V7497’s first engine run and flight in 2016.  When completed Hurricane V7497 will serve as a memorial to the members of 501 Squadron and that gave their lives in the skies over Britain.

Photo and Information Credit: Hurricane 501


Collings Foundation Welcomes New TF-51 Mustang

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The Collings Foundation welcomed this TF-51D  named “Toulouse Nuts” back to the skies over Florida with the the help of American Aero Services in New Symrna Beach.  “Toulouse Nuts” will be joining the Wings of Freedom Tour and will be available for rides across the U.S.  For more information about the restoration process check out: “Whats new at the Collings Foundation”

Photo Credit: Mike Ligosh

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






Erickson Aircraft Collection’s New Grumman TBM Avenger


The Erickson Aircraft Collection’s new Grumman TBM Avenger is currently nearing  completion at Pacific Fighters in Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Pacific Fighters has returned this TBM back to its original condition.  It wears the markings if a VT-40 Avenger  based off the USS Suwannee in 1945.  Also notice the paint is flat.  Drab paint is period correct for this TBM. We look forward to seeing this TBM back in the skies with the Erickson Aircraft Collection!

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Photo Credit: Pacific Fighters

What’s New at the Collings Foundation?

North American TF-51D Mustang “Toulouse Nuts”

The Collings Foundation’s TF-51D Mustang has been undergoing an extensive rebuild back to original condition.  This TF-51D is about a month away from its first flight. It is slated to join the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour for 2016 and will be available for flight training.



Curtiss P-40B Warhawk

This P-40 was formerly owned by Stephen Grey’s Fighter Collection based in Duxford, UK, before arriving to the Collings Foundation.  This P-40B is one of the few surviving aircraft of the Pearl Harbor Attack.   This P-40B underwent repairs and was repainted following a landing gear failure in November 2014. The Foundation’s P-40’s repairs were completed and it was successfully test flown by Steve Hinton and is ready to go for the 2016 airshow season.




Grumman F6F Hellcat

The Collings Foundation’s Hellcat is an F6F-3 model, Bu. 41476.  This Hellcat served with the U.S. Navy in WWII.  Formerly owned by the USMC Museum in Quantico, VA and displayed at the Evergreen Aviation Museum.  Since being acquired by the Collings Foundation, this F6F has been undergoing a full restoration back to airworthy condition at American Aero Services in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  Seen here this Hellcat is being prepped for paint.  Full History




Photo Credit: Jim Harley

AirCorps Aviation: AirCorps Library


AirCorps Aviation recently launched a paid website subscription service that gives the Warbird restorer and the enthusiast access to over 500,000 searchable micro-film drawings.  It is called AirCorps Library.

“AirCorps Library is a collection of WWII and legacy aircraft resource easily viewable in one place. The searchable drawings and blueprints, as well as design, flight, maintenance and restoration manuals, are quickly accessible at high-resolution. AirCorps Aviation’s research and effort to organize these resources for our restoration projects has led us to establish this library that you can now take advantage of as well.

The goal of the program is to provide a cost effective system for users to share resources that will help promote, preserve, and keep WWII and legacy aircraft safely flying through the 21st century.”


AirCorps Library has complete drawings for:

Fighters: P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, Corsair, F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat

Bombers: B-17 Flying Fortress, B-25 Mitchell, TBM Avenger

Classics: T-6 Texan, Stearman, Grumman Duck, Howard DGA, Staggerwing, BT-13 Vultee


Visit: AirCorps Library and follow them on Facebook


Photo Credit: AirCorp Aviation/ AirCorp Library

Information Excerpted From: AirCorps Library