In the Spring of 2019, the Commemorative Air Force West Texas Wing's Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver suffered significant engine damage when a piston failed during operation (pictured). The resulting internal engine damage is not worth risking the world’s only flying Helldiver with only a replaced cylinder, so the Wing is performing a complete overhaul of the Wright R-2600 engine. The entire project will cost approximately $80,000 including engine removal, shipping, overhaul, and replacement on the aircraft in a remote location. We need $20,000 in donations to complete all repairs by October to honor our commitment to perform the Navy Legacy Flight at the Wings Over Houston Airshow.
The SB2C Helldiver
The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver is a US Navy WWII Dive Bomber which played an important role in the air war, especially in the Pacific Theater. Though plagued with design issues during its development and early deployment, later models like the WTW’s SB2C-5 variant went on to have a noteworthy naval career. Over the course of the war, Helldivers played a role in nearly every major US Naval air engagement, starting on 11 November 1943 with squadron VB-17 on the USS Bunker Hill, when they attacked the Japanese-held port of Rabaul.
An Army variant, the A-25 Shrike, was also produced, though the Army had largely eliminated Dive Bombing as a tactic by the time they were delivered. Interestingly, WASP pilots did operate the A-25 as a target tug for gunnery training, providing a dovetailing history between the WTW and the WASP Squadron of the CAF.
The SB2C and A-25 were produced by Curtiss-Wright in Columbus, OH, but Helldivers were also produced under license by two manufacturers in Canada: SBWs by the Canadian Car & Foundry company and SBFs by Fairchild-Canada. Altogether, 7,140 Helldivers were produced, and the aircraft served in the armed forces of eight nations. The SB2C-1 entered service in 1943 as the replacement to the Douglas SBD Dauntless, and the final SB2C retired from service with the Italian Air Force in 1959.
The WTW’s SB2C-5 is the only flying example left in the world.
Given its status as the only remaining airworthy example, the Helldiver is critical to the CAF’s living history mission to Educate, Inspire, and Honor the general public and the veterans who served. In 1982, it experienced engine failure and a hard emergency landing that caused extensive damage. Volunteers of the CAF put in thousands of hours and spent in excess of $200,000 to restore the aircraft to flying condition once more due to the importance of the aircraft as the last flying Helldiver.
Each year, the WTW Helldiver brings the story of the Pacific war and the history of dive bombing to thousands through airshow appearances, barnstorming stops, Naval Legacy Flights, and living history flight experiences. In the last two years alone, the aircraft has met veterans of the type and their descendants in a number of memorable encounters. Recently, we met Bonnie Mathes whose father was a Gunner-Radio Operator on Helldivers during the Korean era, though she had never been able to see the type of plane her father served in until she was able to tour the aircraft this past May in Conroe, TX. At Thunder Over Michigan in September of 2018, we were lucky enough to meet 93-year-old Dan Terhune who was a radio operator/gunner on SB2Cs in the Pacific. His son, David, brought him for a ride in his old plane. Neither meeting would have been possible with Helldivers restricted only to a few museums.
Without the ability to continue this mission with a flyable Helldiver, the CAF’s mission is diminished, and the history of this aircraft will fade from public awareness. It is vital to keep this aircraft flying, especially on the dawn of the 75thanniversary of the end of WWII, and the commemorations during the 2020 season including the Arsenal of Democracy Flyover.
While your donation of $10 or more is both needced and appreciated, there are some incentives for donations of various sizes. In order to receive your incentive, we will need your contact information when you donate, or you will have to message us on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sb2chelldiver
$100 donation - Deck Hand
Receive a photo of the SB2C
$250 donation - Crew Chief
Receive a photo plus an SB2C challenge coin
$500 donation - Gunner
Receive a photo, challenge coin, and a limited edition ball cap
$1500 donation - Pilot
Receive a photo, challenge coin, limited edition ball cap, and a ride in the SB2C*
$2500 donation - Squadron Leader (1 available)
Receive a photo, challenge coin, limited edition ball cap, ride in the SB2C*, plus an actual SB2C supercharger
$5000 donation, - CAG (1 available)
Receive a photo, challenge coin, limited edition ball cap, ride in the SB2C*, plus an actual SB2C piston
* - Rides must be arranged either at our home base or at a pre-determined SB2C tour stop. Donor is responsible for transportation to and from ride site