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.

North American P-51D Mustang Comparison Build, Hasegawa, Airfix and Tamiya Kits in 1/72 Scale Part III

The models were painted with Alclad lacquers and Testor’s Model Master enamels.  All the models came with recessed panel lines on the wings.   Most of these were filled with putty on operational aircraft, so I filled the appropriate lines on all the models.  The natural metal areas were painted Alclad Dark Aluminum, the painted wing color is Alclad Aluminum with a few drops of Alclad light gray primer added to dull it down a little.


I’ll give you what I consider the pros and cons of each kit, and what I did to get them to the configuration I desired.  The one big caveat is this – what I feel compelled to change other modelers might not give a hoot about or even notice – and visa-versa.  Build the model you want how you want and have fun.



First is the Hasagawa kit with decals from AeroMaster sheet 72-175.  This is the oldest kit of the three, and needed the most work.  The cockpit and wheelwells were replaced with Aeries resin and the flaps dropped.  The contour of the upper cowling was given a more rounded profile with a file.  The upper wing joint needs filed back a bit at the wing root joint to get some dihedral on the wings.  The ventral antenna should be moved back about 3-4 mm.  I cut the flaps off and replaced them with the spares from the Airfix kit so they could be shown dropped.  The kit decals had creamy whites and orange reds.  I used the instrument panel decal, but it split into four pieces so the rest of the kit decals went into the trash.

On the plus side, this kit has nice surface detail.  There are many additional parts included to allow the modeler to make several modifications and alternate configurations.  Good to have the options.  In addition to the two types of drop tanks, the kit includes both the Hamilton Standard cuffed propeller and the Aeroproducts propeller usually seen on the P-51K.  Oddly, both the Airfix and Tamiya kits provide additional clear parts for the blown sliding canopy “Dallas” hood but Hasegawa does not.  Hasegawa does include both shrouded and unshrouded exhausts and the dorsal DF fitting seen on some Mustangs.  Duplicate parts are also included for the ventral inlet scoops and radiator door, but the differences were not obvious to me.

“Little Freddie”, piloted by Lt. Freddie Hutchins, 302 FS, 332 FG.  Hasegawa kit, AeroMaster decals.
The underside of “Little Freddie”.


This is the new Airfix kit, with markings from Eagle Strike sheet IP7208.  This kit does a lot of things right, the most obvious being the ability to drop the flaps without the use of a razer saw.  Two sets of flaps are provided, tabbed to pose them up or down as the builder prefers.  The second big thing done right is the wheelwells, which go all the way back to the main wing spar, just like the real thing.  The wells benefit from a little clean-up to remove the inner lip and thin the lower wing edge.  They will still be just a little shallow, but only a little.  If you want to paint the wells in natural metal with only the spar in Zinc Chromate like the early “D”, this kit provides your best opportunity.  Fit was good overall, with the exception of the clear parts.

Which brings us to the liabilities.  The problem which gets the most attention on the Web is the panel lines.  Yes, they are wider and deeper than those of other kits.  I have reduced them here with coats of Mr. Surfacer.  It helped quite a bit, at the expense of some extra time and sandpaper.  The smaller parts also present some problems, due mainly to the soft plastic and large sprue gates.  Some parts were molded badly on my example.  The drop tanks have several errors, and are best left off or replaced.  There are some minor fit issues with the forward windscreen.  This is the first time I have built a kit with the clear canopy molded separately from the lower frame.  I gave it a shot, but I have to say I prefer a one-piece canopy and will replace it with a vacuform piece in the near future.

“Cripes A’ Mighty”, piloted by Major George Preddy,328 FS,  Bodney, Norfolk, Dec. 1944.  Airfix kit, Eagle Strike decals.


Last of the three is the Tamiya kit.  Markings are from Super Scale sheet 72-697, which performed flawlessly despite languishing in the stash for years.  The panel lines here are recessed and nicely engraved, the molding is sharp.  If you want dropped flaps with this kit they must be cut loose, but they are molded as one piece with the upper wing panels and can be filled out with a few lengths of half round.  The wheelwells are deep and have some really nice detail, but only go back to the well opening, not to the spar.  In the end I replaced them, but I’m sure many modelers won’t see that as being worth the extra effort.

The Tamiya kit surprised me with a couple of fit issues.  The fit of the main wing can be fixed with some careful trimming at the center of the rear edge, above the radiator scoop where it will be hidden.  Of more concern is the fit of the forward windscreen – it’s about a millimeter wider than the fuselage.  On any future builds I will try shimming the upper cowl out enough to improve the fit.  The main canopy is in two pieces, and I think a vacuform piece would improve the appearance here as well.

“Honey Bee” Piloted by Capt. Barrie S. Davis, 317 FS, 325 FG.  Tamiya kit, Super Scale decals.


“Daddy’s Girl” piloted by Major Ray Wetmore, 370 FS, 359 FG, East Wretham, Norfolk.  Tamiya kit, Fündeckals decals.



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.

North American P-51D Mustang Comparison Build, Hasegawa, Airfix and Tamiya Kits in 1/72 Scale Part II

Basic construction of the three kits has gone relatively smoothly.  Surprisingly, the one fit problem was with the wing / fuselage joint on the Tamiya kit.  This was a tight joint on all three kits, but you can see how far off the Tamiya kit was in this picture.  The excess is at the rear of the wing piece, not the leading edge.  A few swipes of the Exacto knife cured the problem.   A bonus is any uneven cutting will be hidden by the air scoop.  Removing material from the forward mating surface will result in a step at the wing joint so be sure to take it off from the back when building this one.

P-51s had a laminar flow airfoil design.  To preserve the laminar flow most panel lines on the wings were filled with putty and smoothed.  The wings were then painted in an aluminum lacquer.  All the kits I’ve seen replicate all the panel lines anyway and these three kits are no exception.  The extra lines can be filled with Mr. Surfacer 500 and sanded smooth but remember to leave the ammo bay panels in place.

Here is the underside of the Hasegawa kit.  The shallow wheelwells have been removed and replaced with the Aeries resin insert.  The forward edge has been built up with Evergreen strip and superglue.  There is still a bit of trimming to do to make the fill flush with the Aeries insert.

This is the Hasegawa kit, major assembly completed.  The wing panel lines have been filled, wheelwells replaced with the Aries resin, and the flaps removed.  The flaps will be shown dropped using with the spares from the Airfix kit.  One thing to watch with the Hasegawa kit is the wings tend to have little or no dihedral without some extra attention.  I thinned and sanded the mating surface of the upper wing panels and applied liberal amounts of Testors liquid glue to mine.  I also filed back the upper cowl to reduce the square “shoulders”.

Here is the Airfix kit.  It went together without any drama, but I have made attempts to reduce the excessive panel lines.  After filling and sanding the erroneous panel lines on the wing, the entire model was airbrushed with a coat of Mr. Surfacer 500. That was sanded down with 400 grit, and then another layer of Mr. Surfacer 1000 was applied and sanded down.  That has reduced the depth of the remaining recessed panel lines a bit, we’ll see how it looks under primer and paint.

This is the Tamiya kit.  The flaps were removed and their forward edges rebuilt with 0.080 inch Evergreen half-round strips.  Easy.  I debated about the wheelwells, but in the end they were also replaced with the deeper Aeries resin inserts.  All joints were checked with a layer of Mr. Surfacer 1000 and sanded smooth with 2000 grit.

With major construction complete, it’s time for a look at a few of the fiddlybits.  Here’s a shot of the landing gear components, from left to right Hasegawa, Airfix, and Tamiya.  The Hasegawa wheels lack detail on the inner hubs, but otherwise look OK to me.  The tread pattern on the Airfix wheels is a bit overstated.  A bigger concern is the bend on the gear leg to the left.  It came that way on the sprue, the dorsal antenna was also deformed.  I was able to bend the gear leg straight again, but it may come back to haunt me given the reputation the Airfix kit has for weak legs.  I liked the Tamiya wheels and decided to clone them for use on the other kits, in part because the sharp definition between the wheel and the hub will make them easy to paint.

This is what you get for stores, the 75 gallon teardrop tanks are in all three kits, and Hasegawa also includes a pair of 110 gallon paper tanks.  The Airfix tanks are a disappointment – the shape is off, there is no ridge along the lateral seam, and for some reason Airfix has the filler cap located on the starboard side instead of to port.  Best to replace these tanks, or leave them off entirely.

North American P-51D Mustang Comparison Build, Hasegawa, Airfix and Tamiya Kits in 1/72 Scale Part I

Mustang kits are a perennial favorite of both modelers and kit manufactures.  In this post I will be comparing the offerings of Hasegawa, Airfix, and Tamiya in 1/72 scale.  On first impression, the kits are quite similar in detail and engineering.  Here are the fuselage halves from Hasegawa, Airfix (light blue plastic), and Tamiya, top to bottom.  All three have engraved panel lines, and yes, those on the Airfix kit are deeper and wider than the other two.  Airfix gives you a separate rudder.  Both of the Japanese manufacturers give you a choice of two types of exhausts, on the Hasegawa kit you must make the choice early as the exhausts are fitted from the inside of the fuselage.

This shot shows the cockpit sidewall detail, with an aftermarket resin wall from Airies for comparison.  Detail on all three kits appears too shallow to my eye, with the older Hasegawa details being the faintest.  There is enough to hold paint on the Airfix and Tamiya kits, which was close enough for me this time.  All three kits could be improved either by aftermarket parts or some scratchbuilding.

The wing undersides show several differences, and again an Aeries resin wheelwell piece is shown at the top for comparison.  All three kits treat the wheelwells differently, and note that all three openings have slightly different shapes.  Starting at the top, the Hasegawa wells are extremely shallow, there is not even enough room for the doors, let alone the wheels.  Not an issue for some builders, but it bugs the heck out of me.  The forward curve of the well extends a bit too close to the leading edge of the wing as well.
On the Airfix kit the inner surface of the wheelwell is molded into the upper surface of the wing.  The big thing Airfix did right here is the back of the well extends aft to the main spar, just as it does on the real aircraft.  The lower wing surface panels are a little thick, but that can be addressed with minimal effort.  The other big win here for Airfix is they have provided two sets of separate flaps, both raised and lowered.  Yay!  On a Mustang when the engine stops the hydraulic pressure drops and the flaps and inner wheel well doors lower, so it is most welcome to have a kit which provides for the standard appearance right out of the box.
The Tamiya wells are quite detailed, but they only go back to the rear of the well opening, not the spar.  They are deep though, and I considered leaving them alone given they are on the underside where they don’t stand out.

Here are the cockpit components, again with Aeries resin parts at the top for comparison.  Hasegawa is the less detailed of the three and is missing rudder pedals along with the prominent console on the port side.  Airfix extends the cockpit floor to give you a roof for the tail wheelwell and a very nice pilot figure.  The control stick is a bad combination of a thin part and soft plastic though, I broke mine during painting.  On any future builds I will go with a wire stick right from the start.  Tamiya’s cockpit is nicely done, particularly the seat and instrument panel.

Here the fuselage halves are taped up for comparison of component alignment.  Top to bottom they are Tamiya to Airfix, Airfix to Hasegawa, and Hasegawa to Tamiya.  As you can see, everything lines up pretty well on the top of the fuselage.

On the bottom of the fuselage we can see some differences in the way things line up.  Hasegawa (top half, center) appears to have the tail well slightly short and everything else moved aft a bit, but most of these debates come down to whose drawings one likes best.  In the end, I decided not to cut plastic here and just build the kits as they were molded.  There’s the comparison of the major components, I’ll show assembly and improvements next.

Boeing YB-40 Flying Fortress Escort Bomber

The Boeing YB-40 Escort Bomber or “Bomber-Fighter” was a B-17 with additional defensive armament, armor, and ammunition built in an attempt to provide defense for B-17 formations over Europe. This is the prototype XB-40, converted from the second production B-17F-1-BO serial number 41-24341 by Lockheed-Vega. Note the second dorsal turret mounted in the radio room and how the upper fairing extends to the turret.
Another photograph of the XB-40 prototype 41-24341. By this time the dorsal fairing has been abruptly truncated which increased drag but improved the fields of fire for the second turret. This would become the standard for the subsequent YB-40 series. If you look closely you can see some artwork on the fuselage side ….
… and here is a close-up. Mickey Mouse was a popular subject for aircraft artwork, and not just among American aircrews. Notice how the bars and red surround added to the national insignia have been applied over the artwork.
A total of twenty-five B-17F were modified to YB-40 or TB-40 (gunnery trainer) standard. Here is a photograph of 42-5732 through 42-5745 which were delivered to the modification center at Tulsa in October and November of 1942 receiving their modifications. The work to install the powered turret in the radio compartment is underway.
A well-known photograph showing the increased firepower of the YB-40 with eight of the fourteen .50 caliber machine guns visible. Several different armament configurations were proposed, including 40 mm or 20 mm cannon, and reportedly one with a total of thirty .50 caliber guns.
A nice external view of the port waist gun position showing the twin .50 calibers mounted there. Note the wind deflector forward of the opening and that the twin guns are mounted at the center of the window, not more forward as was standard for the single-gun installation.
A view from inside the YB-40 looking forward, showing the improved dual waist gun installation. The YB-40 introduced the staggered waist gun layout to the Flying Fortress design, this picture shows a modification to improve the ammunition feed to the guns. Note the large quantity of ammunition carried for these guns and the effort to shift the weight forward.
A major innovation was the installation a Bendix remote turret under the Bombardier’s position to improve forward firepower. Both German and Japanese pilots quickly discovered the relative weakness of frontal firepower of the Flying Fortress and concentrated their attacks from the nose whenever possible. This installation proved a success prompting Douglass to install Bendix chin turrets on the final eighty-six B-17Fs they produced, the Bendix turrets became standard at all three manufacturers with the B-17G model. This YB-40 does not yet carry cheek guns for the Navigator, although these would be added later.
YB40_08_42-5743_Woolaroc_42-5741_Chicago_ 92BG
Twelve YB-40s were assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group / 327th Bomb Squadron for combat trials where they flew missions from May through July 1943. This is 42-5743 “Woolaroc” and 42-5741 “Chicago” which operated from RAF Alconbury. The port cheek guns have been fitted on both these aircraft.
YB40_09_42-5736 -Tampa Tornado 92nd BG 327th BS
42-5736 “Tampa Tornado” at RAF Kimbolton during an open house for local schoolchildren. The subdued national insignia is apparent, Neutral Gray was substituted for the more usual Insignia White.
The Tampa Tornado again with two sisterships at Alconbury. The YB-40 experiment was not deemed a success. While firepower was improved it was still not sufficient to deter the Jagdwaffe. The YB-40 contributed nothing to the total bombs on target, and the weight of the additional guns and ammunition made it difficult for the YB-40s to keep up with a B-17 formation, especially after they had released their bomb loads.
The YB-40s were withdrawn from the European Theater and redesignated as TB-40s where they served Stateside in the gunnery training role. Here is 42-5925 along with four Bell P-63 King Cobras on a training flight.
Here is 42-5741 Chicago again, likely at RFC Ontario at the end of her service life. Note the lack of armament and the large training “buzz number”. Upon her return to the States she was renamed “Guardian Angel”. All of the YB-40s were scrapped after the war, none survive today. In the final assessment the YB-40 program contributed improvements to the defensive armament of standard Flying Fortresses, primarily the staggered waist gun positions and the Bendix chin turret in the nose.

YB-40 missions log from Wikipedia:

29 May 1943 – attacked submarine pens and locks at Saint-Nazaire. Smaller strikes were made at Rennes naval depot and U-boat yards at La Pallice. In the attack, seven YB-40s were dispatched to Saint-Nazaire; they were unable to keep up with B-17s on their return from the target and modification of the waist and tail gun feeds and ammunition supplies was found to be needed. The YB-40s were sent to Technical Service Command at the Abbots Ripton 2nd Strategic Air Depot for modifications.

15 June 1943 – four YB-40s were dispatched from Alconbury in a raid on Le Mans after completion of additional modifications.

22 June 1943 – attack on the I.G. Farben Industrie Chemische Werke synthetic rubber plant at Hüls. The plant, representing a large percentage of the Germany’s synthetic rubber producing capacity, was severely damaged. In the raid, 11 YB-40s were dispatched; aircraft 42-5735 was lost, being first damaged by flak and later shot down by Uffz. Bernhard Kunze in a Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-2 of JG 1 over Pont, Germany. The 10 crew members survived and were taken prisoner.

25 June 1943 – attack on Blohm & Voss sub shops at Oldenburg. This was the secondary target, as the primary at Hamburg was obscured by clouds. In this raid, seven YB-40s were dispatched, of which two aborted. Two German aircraft were claimed as destroyed.

26 June 1943 – scheduled but aborted participation in attack on the Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay, France (primary target) and also the Luftwaffe airfield at Poissy, France. The five YB-40s assigned to the attack were unable to form up with the bombing squadron, and returned to base.

28 June 1943 – attack on the U-boat pens at Saint-Nazaire. In the raid, the only serviceable lock entrance to the pens was destroyed. In this attack, six YB-40s were dispatched, and one German aircraft was claimed as destroyed.

29 June 1943 – scheduled participation in attack on the Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay, but aircraft returned to Alconbury due to clouds obscuring the target. In the raid, two YB-40s dispatched, one aborted.

4 July 1943 – attacks on aircraft factories at Nantes and Le Mans, France. In these raids, two YB-40s were dispatched to Nantes and one to Le Mans.

10 July 1943 – attack on Caen/Carpiquet airfield. In this raid, five YB-40s were dispatched.

14 July 1943 – attacked Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay. In this raid, five YB-40s were dispatched.

17 July 1943 – YB-40s recalled from a raid on Hannover due to bad weather. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

24 July 1943 – YB-40s recalled from an attack on Bergen, Norway due to cloud cover. In this raid, one YB-40 was dispatched.

28 July 1943 – attack on the Fieseler aircraft factory at Kassel. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

29 July 1943 – attack on U-boat yards at Kiel. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

Altogether of the 59 aircraft dispatched, 48 sorties were credited. Five German fighter kills and two probables were claimed, and one YB-40 was lost, shot down on 22 June mission to Hüls, Germany. Tactics were revised on the final five missions by placing a pair of YB-40s in the lead element of the strike to protect the mission commander.

Serials from Freeman:

41-24341 XB-40 prototype


42-5733 Peoria Prowler

42-5734 Seymore Angel, later renamed Red Balloon, Old Ironsides

42-5735 Wango Wango, lost on Hüls raid 22JUN43

42-5736 Tampa Tornado

42-5737 Dakota Demon

42-5738 Boston Tea Party

42-5739 Lufkin Ruffian

42-5740 Monticello

42-5741 Chicago, later renamed Guardian Angel

42-5742 Plain Dealing Express

42-5743 Woolaroc

42-5744 Dollie Madison










42-5833 TB-40 crew trainer

42-5834 TB-40 crew trainer

42-5872 TB-40 crew trainer