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Curtiss-Wright Helldiver SB2C
Dive Bomber

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Carrier-Based Helldiver, Built to Replace the SBD Dauntless

SB2C-4 Helldiver banking over the USS Hornet (CV12)

SB2C-3 banking over the USS Hornet (CV-12). US Navy photograph by Lieutenant Commander Charles Kerlee.

The last combat aircraft built for the U.S. Navy and Marines by Curtiss Aircraft, the SB2C Helldiver was a large two-seat, carrier-based dive bomber, first introduced in 1943.

It was to be a replacement for the older SBD Dauntless, the latter still held in high regard — particularly after sinking or heavily damaging all four of the Japanese aircraft carriers in the Battle of Midway. Although also ordered by the Army under the designation A-25 (Shrike), most of this order was instead taken by the Marines and re-designated.

Problems and Delays with the Helldiver

SB2C helldivers aboard a carrier

SB2C Helldivers on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) (1943). US Navy photo.

The Helldiver had retractable landing gear, internal bomb bays, and folding wings which allowed the transport of larger numbers of aircraft on carriers. Later versions were powered by a Wright R-2600 radial engine. But the SB2C was fraught with problems and delays from the beginning. The prototype was destroyed in a crash and had to be rebuilt. Nearly 900 structural and equipment modifications were requested by the military.

There were complaints that the SB2C was underpowered, and had structural weaknesses, poor handling, and inadequate stability. Problems were addressed and a number of improvements were incorporated through a series of variants. Improvements including an uprated engine, self-sealing fuel tanks, new rear fuselage and tail assembly, increased armament, increase in fuel capacity, and armor protection.

SB2C Helldiver being loaded with torpedo

Torpedo being loaded into the SB2C's internal hold. US. Navy photo by Captain H.S. Duckworth.

Although not a particularly popular aircraft with its airmen, (many who said SB2C stood for “Son of a Bitch, 2nd Class”), Curtiss was still unable to meet the US Navy's demand for the Helldiver. This prompted two Canadian companies (Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. And Canadian Car & Foundry) to produced Helldivers under license with the designation or SBF and SBW.

Helldiver Armament

Armament on the later versions included four 0.5 inch machine guns on the wings or two 20mm cannons, and two 0.30 inch machine guns in the rear position. The SB2C could carry a combination of 2,002 pounds of bombs, torpedo and rockets in its internal hold and in wing racks.

SB2C Helldivers Remained in Service Until the 1950s

The Helldiver saw its first combat during the the bombing attack on Rabaul, and participated later in the sinking of the two most power battleships in the Japanese Navy, the Musashi (Leyte) and the Yamato (Okinawa). After World War II, many SB2Cs remained in service until the 1950s.



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* SB2C-4 Helldiver facts

Category Dive bomber
Fairchild (Canada) (SBF)
Canadian Car & Foundry (SBW)
Introduced November 1943
Used in
United States Navy
Produced 1943–1945
Number built 7,140
Cruising speed 158 mph
Max. speed 294 mph
Altitude 29,100 feet ceiling
Range 1,200 miles
* Numbers are approximate


SB2C Designations

SB2C-4 reads:
S = Scout
B = Bomber
2 = Series number
C = Curtiss
4 = Mark number

Other designations:
A = Attack. The A-25 (Shrike) was build for the USAAF but never used as such.

Four major variants built during WWII:
-1, -3, -4, -5
SBF and SBW - designations which were used for aircraft built in Canada under license by Fairchild Aircraft and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.