Developed to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless, was a carrier-based dive bomber aircraft produced for the United States Navy during World War II. It was much faster than the SBD and a much larger aircraft, able to operate from the later design aircraft carriers and could easily carry a considerable array of armament. It featured an internal bomb bay that reduced drag when carrying heavy ordnance. Saddled with demanding requirements set forth by both the U.S. Marines and United States Army Air Forces, the manufacturer incorporated features of a “multi-role” aircraft into the design.
Crew nicknames for the aircraft included the Big-Tailed Beast (or just the Beast), Two-Cee and Son-of-a-Bitch 2nd Class, after its designation and partly because of its reputation for having difficult handling characteristics. Neither pilots nor aircraft carrier captains seemed to like it. Delays marred its production—by the time the A-25 Shrike variant for the USAAF was deployed in late 1943, the Army Air Forces no longer had a need for a thoroughbred dive bomber. Poor handling of the aircraft was another factor that hampered its introduction and both the British Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force cancelled their orders.
The Truman Committee investigated Helldiver production and turned in a scathing report, which eventually led to the beginning of the end for the Curtiss Aircraft Co. Problems with the Helldiver were eventually ironed out, and in spite of its early problems, the aircraft was flown through the last two years of the Pacific War and earned a fine combat record.
Crew: Two, pilot and radio operator/gunner
Length: 36 ft 8 in.
Wingspan: 49 ft 9 in.
Height: 13 ft 2 in.
Empty weight: 10,547 lb.
Max. takeoff weight: 16,616 lb.
Powerplant: 1 × Wright R-2600-20 Twin Cyclone radial engine, 1,900 hp.
Maximum speed: 295 mph (257 knots) at 16,700 ft.
Cruise speed: 158 mph (137 knots)
Range: 1,165 mi (1,013 nmi.) with 1,000 lb bomb load
Service ceiling: 29,100 ft
Rate of climb: 1,800 ft/min
Guns: 2 × 20 mm (.79 in) AN/M2 cannon in the wings; 2 × 0.30 in. M1919 Browning machine guns in the rear cockpit.
Rockets: 8 × 5 in. high velocity aircraft rockets.
Bombs: in internal bay: 2,000 lb (900 kg) of bombs or 1 × Mark 13-2 torpedo on under-wing hard points: 500 lb. of bombs each.
Photos from the Air Age Media Archives