The SBD Dauntless, first flown May 1, 1940, was a small dive bomber or “scout bomber” (the “SB” in its designation) produced for the U.S. Navy and supplied in limited numbers to foreign navies. Based on a series of Northrop light bombers of the late 1930s, the Dauntless was small, slow, and almost unprotected, but nevertheless widely liked by its crews for its guileless handling and bombing accuracy. So small that it didn’t even need folding wings to fit on carrier deck elevators, the Dauntless figured in major U.S. naval engagements throughout the war. Its most famous moment will always be a span of just a few minutes on June 4, 1942, during the Battle of Midway, when a flight of Dauntlesses had the good fortune to arrive over Japan’s aircraft carriers at an unprotected moment and sank three of them, adding a fourth the following day.
In all, 5,936 Dauntlesses were produced at Douglas’s Santa Monica factory, and they served until war’s end in various second-line capacities. France and New Zealand were other significant operators of the type; Britain received several for evaluation but were not impressed enough to order more.
Handier and more economical to operate than many war surplus aircraft, Dauntless were used for agricultural spraying and other odd jobs during the late 1940s. They became extremely rare, and by the 1970s only a couple were flying. New airframes were located to bring the current total to about four flyable Dauntlesses, and the Navy’s program of recovering submerged examples from the training area in Lake Michigan has greatly increased the population of static display airframes.
The National World War II Museum claims that its Dauntless was a combat veteran of the campaigns on Guadalcanal, operating from Henderson Field with U.S. Marine scout bombing squadrons VMSB-141 and -132. It then served with Navy bombing squadron 10 aboard the USS Enterprise. When serving as a trainer for landing on practice carriers on Lake Michigan off the coast of Illinois, the plane missed a landing and sank in November 1944. Recovered as part of a U.S. Navy program in 1990, it is restored to 1942 markings and displayed at the Museum.
This Dauntless claims a combat history with squadron VS/VB-9 aboard the USS Essex in 1943. After World War II, it was used as a wind machine by Hollywood studios. Starting in the 1960s it resided at a number of museums until it was fully restored by Yanks Air Museum in the 1980s, registered N4864J, using a set of wings from a different aircraft recovered in the Pacific.
Planes of Fame‘s SBD served with the Royal New Zealand Air Force as NZ5062. Ed Maloney first acquired the aircraft in the late 1950s, but it was only in the 1980s that it was restored to flying condition. Now, registered N670AM, it is displayed in the air a few times a year and travels to nearby southern California airshows.
This SBD has long been assumed to have been built for the Army as an A-24, including by its owner, the Commemorative Air Force. More recently the CAF’s research has led it to conclude that this plane was Navy SBD-5 54532 rather than USAAF A-24 42-54532 as previously thought. If correct, the machine was delivered in 1944 and used as a personal transport for a naval officer in Los Angeles and later Baltimore. After the war, this Dauntless had a brief postwar career in sky-writing and then went to an aerial photography company in Mexico as XB-QUC. It found its way back to the U.S. as part of the famous Tallmantz collection in the 1960s. The Commemorative Air Force has owned it since the 1970s, and tours it extensively selling rides in the eastern United States. It is based in Georgia, registered N82GA (formerly N54532 and N94513).
The National Air & Space Museum acquired this Dauntless straight out of Navy service in 1948, when it was still in use as a test aircraft. By 1948 it was already obvious that the SBD was one of the legendary aircraft of World War II, and the NASM restored the machine in time for the opening of its main museum on the Washington mall in 1976. It has been displayed there ever since.
After the Northrop A-17, the Army officially decided that all future attack aircraft that it ordered would be multi-engined. When World War II started, this quickly proved to be unwise, as the value of small, single-engined attack aircraft became apparent. The Army hurriedly ordered some Douglas Dauntlesses, which it called the Banshee. About 940 A-24s were built or diverted from the Navy, as this one, originally Navy SBD-4 10575, was. The A-24s saw combat early in the Pacific war, based on the island of Java, where they were mauled by the Japanese. The National Museum of the USAF displays this Banshee, owned by the U.S. Marine Corps but on loan to the USAF, painted as 41-15796. This plane survived until the 1970s as a crop sprayer, registered N4488N.