Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless arrives at Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum


Last October, we reported that after some 40,000 hours of volunteer work, the catering team at the Aerospace and Air Science Museum Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan had completed the restoration of the Douglas SBD-2P Dauntless BuNo. 2173. This article also stated that the dive bomber was to leave Kalamazoo for a new home in Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island in Honolulu, Hawaii. We can now report that this Dauntless veteran has completed his oceanic journey to Hawaii and is safely housed in historic Hangar 79 at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, which still bears the scars of that fateful day of the Japanese attack in December. 1941. BuNo The .2173 is currently being reassembled for the move to the nearby Hangar 37, where it will replace the SBD-5 BuNo.36177. The latter aircraft will soon return to the United States to become a static display within the The Collings Foundation American Heritage Museum in Hudson, Massachusetts.

The SBD-2P BuNo.2173 has a fascinating history, as illustrated below in the (softly edited) description of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum…

Of the 5,936 Douglas Dauntless dive bombers built between 1940 and 1944, only a fraction of them survived the next eight decades. Even fewer have been kept in an essentially “time capsule” state. The valuable addition of a Douglas Dauntless SBD-2P to the collection of the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum would have been much less likely had it not been for a carburetor icing incident on Lake Michigan on February 18, 1944. Forced to give up, our SBD-2P stood nose-to-the-lake for nearly 65 years before a rescue team lifted it from the depths June 19, 2009.

The museum’s Douglas Dauntless was pulled from Lake Michigan in Chicago on June 19, 2009. (Image via PHAM)
James D. “Jig Dog” Ramages in a Douglas SBD Dauntless aboard the USS Enterprise (CV 6) during World War II. (image via wikipedia)

Former McDonald’s President Fred Turner sponsored this payback effort as a tribute to his friend Rear Admiral James “Jig Dog” Ramage. Since it would take many years to restore our aircraft, the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla. loaned us SBD-5 BuNo.36711 to take his place in the interim. This aircraft is currently on display in our Battle of Midway exhibit. The museum’s SBD-2P, a Pacific WWII veteran, was sent to our friends at the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where they worked hard for five years to restore the aircraft to its former glory.

SBD-2P BuNo. 2173 seen in the Air Zoo catering hangar in October ahead of its expedition to Hawaii. It was finished by this point, except for the installation of its wheels, following a massive 40,000-hour renovation effort by Air Zoo volunteers. (photo via Air Zoo)

The design of the SBD evolved over six iterations during the war, adding self-sealing fuel tanks, an armor plate, and an increased number of machine guns. Along with the design changes, sub-categories designate the multi-purpose aircraft warfare applications.

For example, the P in the type designation of our Dauntless indicates that the Navy ordered it as a photo reconnaissance variant; of the 87 SBD-2s built by Douglas Aircraft, only 14 were modified for such a role. The SBD-5 was the most numerous Dauntless variant, with 2,965 produced. The SBD-5 had a slightly more powerful Wright R-1820-60 Cyclone engine (1200 hp) and increased ammunition capacity.

All Navy aircraft records are individually ordered and identified by their assigned office numbers. The records of our Douglas Dauntless SBD-2P, office number 2173, trace the aircraft from its delivery to the Navy in early 1941, as a photo reconnaissance aircraft, to its posting with the Reconnaissance Squadron VS-6 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Business (CV 6).

US Navy Douglas Dauntless SBD-2 of Scouting Squadron 6 (VS-6) in flight with the aircraft carrier USS Business (CV 6) and destroyer below. (image via PHAM)

The aircraft was then assigned to a Battle Force Pool in San Diego in August 1941. It was still in California on December 7, 1941 and assigned to a Battle Force Pool in Pearl Harbor a month later. At this point, our Dauntless appears to have been mistaken for record keeping for SBD-3 BuNo.2179. The latter SBD crashed in an incident while assigned to the aircraft carrier USS hornet (CV12). However, handwritten notes on the history cards of this aircraft recorded BuNo.2173 instead of BuNo.2179 – an easy wartime mistake, but one that has created a conundrum for aviation historians!

USS flight deck crew Yorktown securing the Dauntless SBDs that just hit the Japanese-held islands in 1943. (image via PHAM)

While researching other official Navy documents, historians and researchers identified the error and proceeded to uncover the fascinating history of our SBD-2P. Indeed, searching our SBD’s history reads like a detective investigation. Dates, significant historical events, heroic feats and the stories of the brave crews of BuNo. 2173 emerge as a gripping tale, tracing the plane from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, until it becomes cargo on board. of the USS Yorktown (CV 5), to his frontline squadron posting with the VS-5 during the Battle of the Coral Sea, to its support for training in three continental naval air bases, to its service as part of the Lake Michigan Carrier Qualification Training Unit, and finally to its crash during landing training exercises on aircraft carriers In progress. Fortunately, the pilot, Lt. John Lendo, survived this latest incident. Although our Dauntless had spent more than half a century under the cold waters of Lake Michigan, the muddy bottom was not to be the plane’s last resting place.

With donor support garnered in 2020, we were able to complete the first stage of the exchange – shipping the SBD-2P from Kalamazoo to Hawaii; we have now hosted our SBD-2P home in Pearl Harbor. Once our historic SBD-2P is on display in Hangar 37, it will provide authentic context to tell the challenges naval aviation faced in the aftermath of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

The moment the SBD-2P BuNo.2173 arrived at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island. (image via PHAM)

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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