Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Color Photographs Part IV

All photographs from the NASM Hans Groenhoff collection.

A fine photograph of a C-46A in natural metal, with OD / NG camouflaged aircraft in the background. The national insignia became standardized with the insignia blue border in August 1943, the transition from OD / NG to natural metal occurring late in the same year.

A C-46A in flight wearing the red bordered national insignia which was authorized briefly during the summer of 1943.

A beautiful “glamor shot” of a NMF finish C-46A leading another in camo.

A standard International farm tractor in service as an aircraft tug, perhaps he should secure the boarding ladder before attempting to move the aircraft?

A line-up of C46D’s and P-40N’s outside of the Curtiss factory for a presentation ceremony to highlight production for the Press. This appears to coincide with the transition from Olive Drab to natural metal finish as evidenced by the P-40’s.

An interesting perspective of a C-46D. Wheel hubs were left in natural metal, even on camouflaged aircraft.

A line-up of C-46E’s. Note the barred national insignia is carried on the underside of the starboard wing, a quick way of determining if the image has been reversed. Also, the insignia is painted perpendicular to the fuselage, not parallel to the leading edge of the wing.

The C-46E differed from other Commandoes by having “stepped” cockpit glazing which makes them resemble the Douglas C-47 Dakota. Other differences are the three-bladed props and fuller wingtip contours.

A fine study of a C-46E from the nose. The “double bubble” fuselage shape was a Curtiss innovation and is still in use on airliner designs today.

Seventeen C-46E’s were produced, but they never left the continental United States and were declared surplus at the end of the war. All were purchased by Slick Airways which provided cargo services for the oil industry. Slick purchased the brand-new aircraft for the princely sum of $14,530 apiece.

Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Color Photographs Part III – Exterior Details

All photographs from the NASM Hans Groenhoff collection.

Technicians make adjustments to the Pratt & Whitney R-2800-51 radial engine on this C-46A. The inside of the nacelle is in natural metal with stenciling visible.


Another view inside the engine panels, this time on the port engine. The panels locked up out of the way allowing for easy access.


A view from under the nacelle showing the arrangement of cooling slots and cowl flaps. Curtiss engineers located the cowl flaps on the underside of the nacelle so as to not disturb the airflow over the wing and thus reduce lift.


Hydraulic fluid leaking through the fuselage panel seams can be seen in many photos showing the underside of the nose. The streamlined teardrop fairing housed the direction-finding antenna and was commonly called the “football”.


Another staged photograph of troops and Jeeps being loaded into a C-46. This angle gives a good view of the Curtiss Electric four-bladed propellers.


This photograph would be interesting enough just for showing details of the cargo door interior, but what is particularly fascinating is what is being loaded – the nose section of a Sikorsky R-4 helicopter. The R-4 was the world’s first helicopter to enter large-scale production.


This view gives a good impression of the size of the C-46’s vertical stabilizer.


Nice details of engine maintenance, including the configuration of the work stand.


A Curtiss technician on top of the starboard nacelle showing details of the exhaust and cooling arrangement. Exhaust staining and oil spills are weathering opportunities for skilled modelers.


A C-46E showing the Troop Carrier Command logo on the nose. Note the stepped “airliner” windscreen and three-bladed prop of the “E” model.

Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Color Photographs Part II – Factory and Interior Photos

All photographs from the NASM Hans Groenhoff collection.

Curtiss factory technicians posed “at work” for the photographer, giving a good view of the interior structure of the wing. Hundreds of thousands of women worked in the factories during the war, then went home to farm their own food in “Victory Gardens” in their backyards after their shifts.

A technician works inside the nose of a C-46 while others make adjustments to the port engine. Even at this early stage there is evidence of hydraulic fluid leaking through the fuselage seams under the nose of the aircraft, something commonly seen on Commandos.

A fuselage taking shape on the factory floor. Modelers should note the different hues of the natural aluminum finish. The forward access door to the lower cargo bay has not been fitted, giving a glimpse into the interior.

The port wing assembly is fully painted and marked prior to attachment to the aircraft. This wing is from the first group of C-46’s ordered as evidenced by the red center to the national insignia. The primer on the leading edge of the wing will be covered by a de-icer boot on the finished aircraft.

A fine overhead view of the forward fuselage at the Curtiss Buffalo NY plant showing the arrangement of antennas and the navigator’s astrodome.

The spacious cargo compartment of the Commando, looking forward towards the cockpit. Tie-down points are visible on the floor, passenger seats are seen folded along the fuselage sides.

A rare contemporary color photograph of the cockpit of a C-46E.

Even more rare is this view of the switch panel located on the roof of the cockpit. Note the color coding of the switch groups.

A nice perspective of the production floor which gives an overview of the assembly line. There was constant pressure to shorten production times and improve efficiency for all manner of war materials, often the introduction of design improvements would be postponed to prevent any potential delays in production.

A presentation ceremony outside of the Curtiss plant for three C-46A’s and several P-40 Warhawks. The OD / NG camouflaged aircraft all wear inscriptions saying “City of ___” on their noses, the P-40’s in desert colors lack national insignia and serial numbers.

Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando Color Photographs Part I

All photographs from the NASM Hans Groenhoff collection unless otherwise noted.

The first of many! This is the first production C-46A, serial 41-5159. It left Curtiss-Wright’s Buffalo plant on 11APR42 and was accepted by the USAAF two months later. Too late for the colorful “yellow wings” era, the Commandoes left the factory in the standard Olive Drab over Neutral Gray camouflage until late in 1943 when they were delivered in Natural Metal. (NASM, Rudy Arnold collection)

The first Commando flying alongside another Curtiss product, the P-40E Warhawk. Notice the differences in the national insignia between the two aircraft. The C-46 still retains the red center to the insignia which was ordered to be removed from USAAF aircraft on 15MAY42. (NASM, Rudy Arnold collection)

The seventh production C-46A demonstrates its utility as a troop transport for the photographer. The Commando could carry up to forty fully-equipped infantrymen, seen here exiting the aircraft via the vehicle ramps.

41-5166 again, demonstrating the cargo capacity. The spacious fuselage allowed a wide variety of bulk loads to be carried, with room for more in a separate compartment in the lower fuselage. Here a Jeep is being unloaded using the cargo ramps; up to three Jeeps could be carried at a time.

A rather worn Commando in colorful markings, the distressed paint job would make an interesting challenge for a modeler.

A C-46A displaying the red-outlined national insignia authorized for a short time during the summer of 1943. On many USAAF types subassemblies were provided to the primary contractor already painted in whatever shade of Olive Drab the subcontractor deemed appropriate, resulting in tonal differences in aircraft components.

By late 1943 the USAAF had begun to establish air superiority and ordered that aircraft be delivered in their Natural Metal finish. This sped production, lowered costs, and saved weight on the finished aircraft.

The C-46D featured doors on each side of the fuselage which allowed for the rapid deployment of up to fifty paratroopers per aircraft. A fine photograph showing paratroopers posed in the open doorways.

Seventeen of the “E” model Commando were completed, but none were finished in time to be deployed. The C-46E featured a stepped “airliner” windscreen which makes them appear similar to the rival Douglas C-47 Dakoda at first glance.

Factory-fresh C-46F’s outside of the Curtiss plant at Buffalo, NY in Chinese markings. 44-78627 never made it to service, being lost on her delivery flight to Chinese forces.

SB2C Helldiver Mishaps Part II

A VB-18 Helldiver seen flat on the deck of the USS Intrepid (CV-11). The flight deck shows no visible damage but the prop tips are bent.

The US Navy continued to operate the Helldiver briefly in the post-war era. Here an SB2C-5 comes to a spectacular end aboard the USS Kersarge (CV-33) in September 1948.

A VB-92 Helldiver goes over the side of the USS Lexington (CV-16) with a second Essex-class carrier in the background. US Navy doctrine at the time was to operate carriers in Battle Groups of four, along with numerous escorts.

Another mishap aboard the USS Lexington (CV-16) as the prop of this Helldiver chews up the deck. On advantage of the wooden deck is that it could be repaired quickly.

Crash crews aboard the USS Hornet (CV-12) respond quickly as this VB-2 Helldiver impacts the island.

The Helldiver was notoriously hard to control at low speeds resulting in another collision with the after 5”/38 gun mounts aboard the USS Wasp (CV-18).

With a long nose and a short tail the Helldiver displayed a tendency to nose over if the tailhook missed the arresting wires but the landing gear did not. This mishap occurred aboard the USS Shangri-La (CV-38) on 13MAR45.

A Helldiver hangs suspended over the side of the USS Intrepid (CV-11) on 30OCT44 after the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The odd thing is the tail markings indicate the aircraft was assigned to the USS Hancock (CV-19) at the time.

A view of the same Helldiver from below shows just how precarious the situation is. Aside from the bent prop the aircraft appears relatively undamaged.

This SB2C-4E has come in too low and struck the ramp of the USS Shangri-La (CV-38).

SB2C Helldiver Mishaps Part I

A Helldiver noses over next to the island structure of the USS Hancock (CV-19) revealing details of the underside. Modelers should note the oil staining from the radial engine and the cordite streaks on the wings from the shell casing chutes for the 20 mm cannon.

The tail gunner of this SB2C-1 searches for the missing tail of his Helldiver after recovering aboard the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17). The aircraft is from VB-17 during her workups on 19JUL43. VB-17 would fly their Helldivers against the Japanese at Rabaul in November during the type’s first combat action.

This overall Glossy Sea Blue Helldiver has nosed over and bent its prop, as well as damaging the wooden deck to the right of the frame. The deck crew appears interested in the starboard wheel.

Fire crews move in on this SB2C aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). The fuselage has suffered a structural failure just behind the cockpit.

This Helldiver from VB-15 appears to have lost its tail surfaces due to a collision with another aircraft. Ideally recovered aircraft would have been spotted forward of a wire crash barrier to prevent just such an occurrence but this one did not make it in time. The carrier is the USS Hornet (CV-12) on 02JAN44 during work-ups.

The tail hook has missed the wire but the landing gear did not, causing this Helldiver to nose over aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14), January 1945.

An SB2C-1 of VB-17 misses the wire and careens into the island of the USS Bunker Hill (CV-17).

The geometric triangle recognition symbol identifies this SB2C-4 as belonging to VB-87 from the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). The aircraft went into the water on 06JUN45.

Another USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) Helldiver having a bad day. The leading edge extension on the outer wings were interlocked with the landing gear and extended to increase lift at low speed.

A training accident aboard USS Charger (CVE-30) has left this SB2C-3 of VB-82 over the side with damage to the wing. The crew has already thrown the pilot a life ring. Escort carriers did not operate the Hellcat in combat.

The SB2C-4E has lost her engine after impacting the after 5”/38 twin turret on the deck of the USS Lexington (CV-16).

This SB2C-4E has become tangled in the arresting wires aboard USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). By this time the Ticonderoga’s airgroup has traded in their geometric triangle recognition symbol for the more easily described letter “V”.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver Color Photographs Part II

A factory-fresh Helldiver in the “three-tone” standard camouflage which actually consisted of up to five tones. In this photograph the subtle difference between the Non Specular Sea Blue on the wing leading edge and the Semi-Gloss Sea Blue on the wing upper surface is visible if you look closely.

The Helldiver was not popular. The Navy demanded 880 changes from Curtiss before the design was accepted; crews labeled it the “Beast” due to persistent controllability problems and maintenance issues. Initial carrier qualifications aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10) were a disaster – she deployed with the SBD Dauntless instead and her Captain stated that the best use for the Helldiver was as an anchor.

The Helldiver crew consisted of a pilot who was an Officer and an enlisted gunner / radioman. This photograph shows their standard USN flight gear. The Navy’s leading ace CDR David McCampbell stated that he felt sorry for the crews assigned to fly the Helldiver.

An SB2C-4 aboard the Casablanca-class Escort Carrier USS Matanikau (CVE-101) in March 1945. The Matanikau was used to train naval aviators, hence the large Orange Yellow “buzz numbers” under the aircraft’s port wing. Helldivers were only used from the large fleet carriers in combat, being tricky to handle at low speeds.

A beautiful LIFE Magazine photograph of a Helldiver in flight. The numbers on the nose were to aid in delivering the aircraft to the forward areas, these were usually (but not always) removed when the aircraft was assigned to a squadron.

Seen from an unusual angle, the style and position of the national insignia date this photograph to the first half of 1943. Note the Intermediate Blue which wraps around the front of the cowling, a detail which is sometimes overlooked. (World War Photos)

The leading edge of each wing was equipped with a slat to improve lift at low speeds. These were interlocked with the landing gear so that whenever the landing gear was lowered the slats were deployed.

Another LIFE Magazine photograph showing a white AN/APS-4 radar pod under the starboard wing. This is an SB2C-5, the last production model. An Essex-class carrier is underway in the background, her camouflage indicating a post-war photograph.

An SB2C-3 over a battle group, escorted by a Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat. The horseshoe marking identifies this Helldiver as being assigned to VB-7 operating from the USS Hancock (CV-17).

An Army A-25A Shrike is seen at Luzon in the Philippines with a B-25 Mitchell in the background. The Shrike did not see combat with the USAAF but was used in secondary roles.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver Color Photographs Part I

All photographs from the NASM Hans Groenhoff Collection

The XSB2C-1 prototype first flew on 18DEC40, here we see the aircraft in its original configuration over a snowy landscape, resplendent in the Yellow Wings scheme. Notice the shape of the tail and the width of the panel between the cowling flaps and firewall.
Here is the XSB2C-1 prototype BuNo 1758 again, as re-built after August 1941. Here we see the engine has been moved forward 12 inches (30 cm) and the area of the vertical stabilizer has been increased. More photos of the prototype in this configuration are posted here:
A fine study of an SB2C-4 from the nose. There is a Yagi radar aerial under each wing and the leading edge slats are extended. The Zinc Chromate Green primer on the landing gear and covers shows clearly. The yellow warning tips on the propeller blades have an unusual stripe.
The same aircraft from a different angle. The interior of the wing fold is also in Zinc Chromate Green primer, unlike the wing folds of the Avenger which were painted in the upper surface camouflage color. Recognition lights are carried under the end of the starboard wing.
A posed photograph of the wing 20 mm cannon being “loaded” on an SB2C-4. The aircraft carries a large identification number 254 for its delivery flight on the nose. In the background we can see that aircraft carries the number 2625 in an unusual script on her tail. Also notice the wing fold color on the background aircraft is red.
Another view of 254 from the same series, this time with the wings folded. Note the interior of the wing fold on this aircraft is painted in the Zinc Chromate Green primer.
Another SB2C-4 but this time in an overall Orange Yellow scheme.
The USAAF also operated the Helldiver as the A-25A Shrike. Note the repetition of the serial number under the wing of “Torchy Tess”.
An in-flight shot of 41-18774 in her standard Olive Drab over Neutral Gray camouflage with Medium Green splotches.
Nose and landing gear details of an A-25A Shrike. 900 Shrikes were produced, cut down from an initial order of 3,000 as the USAAF learned that fighter-bombers were more effective and versatile than dedicated dive bomber designs.
Forward fuselage details showing the red stenciling and canopy details. No USAAF Shrikes saw combat, many were passed on to the USMC which used them mainly in training and auxiliary roles.
The Royal Australian Air Force ordered 140 Shrikes but cancelled the order after receiving the first 10. While the color of this negative has shifted it does show the RAAF markings to good advantage.
The Curtiss production line showing the different primer shades used on the various components. National insignia have already been applied even though the final camouflage colors have not. A-25A serial number 41-18774 can be seen in the background.

Curtiss XSB2C-1 Helldiver Prototype Color Photographs

Here is a nice selection of original color photographs of the Curtiss XSB2C-1 Helldiver prototype, Navy Bureau Number 1758.  These are from the NASM Archives, Rudy Arnold Collection.

BuNo 1758 was completed on 13DEC40 in time to wear the Navy’s colorful Yellow Wing scheme.  Foreshadowing a troubled program, the prototype suffered three crashes.  On 09FEB41 the prototype sustained minor damage due to an engine failure but was repaired, only to be damaged again due to landing gear failure May.  The aircraft was rebuilt at this point to reduce engine overheating and stability problems.  The forward fuselage was lengthened by one foot (30 cm) in an effort to improve stability.  When this proved insufficient the vertical tail surface was enlarged.  Cooling flaps and propeller cuffs were installed and an oil cooler scoop was added under the cowl.  The prototype was lost to structural failure during dive tests on 21DEC41.

Although some sources claim these pictures were taken during the aircraft’s maiden flight, the modifications noted above are present fixing the date as AUG41 at the earliest.  The Curtiss-Wright test pilot seen here is Robert Fausel.  Interestingly, earlier Fausel was credited with destroying a Japanese bomber over China as a civilian Curtiss factory representative.


Dive Bomber & Ground Attack Units of the Luftwaffe Vol 1 Book Review


Dive Bomber & Ground Attack Units of the Luftwaffe, A Reference Source, Volume 1

By Henry L. de Zeng IV and Douglas G. Stankey

Hardcover in dustjacket, 208 pages, profusely illustrated

Published by Crecy Publishing November 2009

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1906537089

ISBN-13: 978-1906537081

Dimensions: 9.0 x 0.8 x 12.0 inches

This book is billed as a reference source, and it is exactly as it claims.  It is not intended to be a design history or a typical unit diary, although there are elements of both present.  It is organized in the same format as the authors’ previous works on Luftwaffe Bomber Units.

The first chapters are devoted to the development of the dive bomber and ground attack concepts in the German Luftwaffe.  This was promoted by Ernst Udet using two Curtiss F-11C-2 Hawks which were brought to Germany from America, and interest in the dive-bombing concept resulted in the design of the Ju 87 Stuka.  Jabo tactics and bomb loads used against various types of targets during the Second World War are then described.  Factory drawings and detail photographs are presented to familiarize the reader with two of the more important types, the Junkers Ju 87 and Henschel Hs 129.

The remainder of the book consists of individual unit histories.  These are broken down by period or major action, and catalog the activities and losses of the unit.  Specifics of targets and losses are given along with dates.  Sources, both published and unpublished, are given at the end of each chapter.  These sections are well illustrated and captioned.  Unit badges are presented as color artwork, these and other markings are frequently the subjects of the photographs.  There are also short biographies of notable figures presented with their units.

Most of the units in Volume 1 were equipped with the Stuka, although there are a few units which utilized the Henschel Hs 123 biplanes and twin engined Hs 129.  While not a casual read, there is a wealth of information here for the researcher, and it is well worth picking up by the Luftwaffe enthusiast for the photographs and unit badges.