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In-Box Review
Curtis SB2C Helldiver
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by: Tim Hatton [ LITESPEED ]

Originally published on:


The Helldiver was developed to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless; it was a much larger aircraft able to operate from the latest aircraft carriers of the time and carry a considerable array of armament and featured an internal bomb bay. Unfortunately it did not get of to the best of starts. The U.S. Navy would not accept the SB2C until around 880 modifications to the design and the changes on the production line had been made, This delayed the Curtiss Helldiver's combat debut until 11 November 1943 with squadron VB-17 on the USS Bunker Hill, when they attacked the Japanese-held port of Rabaul on the island of New Britain, north of Papua New Guinea. The first version of the SB2C-1 was kept stateside for training, and because of the various development problems, only 200 being built. The first deployment model being the SB2C-1C. The early prognosis of the "Beast" was unfavourable as it was strongly disliked by aircrews because it was much bigger and heavier than the SBD it replaced. In the first battle of the Philippine Sea 45 Helldivers were lost because they ran out of fuel on the return to their carriers.
The list of faults that the Helldiver included that it was underpowered, had a shorter range than the SBD, was equipped with an unreliable electrical system and was often poorly manufactured. The Curtis-Electric propeller and the complex hydraulic system had frequent maintenance problems. One of the faults remaining with the aircraft all of its operational life would be poor longitudinal stability from a fuselage that was too short. The Helldiver's aileron response was also poor and handling suffered greatly under 90 knots airspeed, since the speed of approach to land on a carrier was supposed to be 85 knots this proved problematic. The 800 changes demanded by the Navy, and to make the aircraft able to take on a combat role resulted in a 42% weight increase explaining much of the problem.
The problems began to be solved with the introduction of the SB2C-3 beginning in 1944 which used the R-2600-20 Double Cyclone engine with 1,900 HP and the Curtis 4-bladed propeller. This substantially solved the chronic lack of power that had plagued the aircraft. The Helldivers would participate in battles over Marianas, Leyte, Taiwan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa [where the Battleship Yamato was sunk]. They were also used in the Navy attacks on the Ryuku Islands and the Japanese home island of Honshu in tactical attacks on airfields, communications, and shipping in 1945.
In operational experience it was found that the U.S. Navy's F6F and F4U fighters were able to carry just as heavy a bomb load against ground targets and were far more able to take care of themselves against enemy fighters once their offensive armament had been discharged. It was the advent of air to ground rockets which allowed the precision attack of ship and shore based targets without the stress and hence weight/performance issues that dive bombers had to endure that ensured that the SB2C was the last purpose built dive bomber built.
Postwar, the S2BC continued to serve in the active US Navy into 1947 and naval reserve units into 1950. Surplus aircraft were sold to the naval air services of France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Thailand. The Greek SB2Cs served in combat in the Greek Civil War in 1949 with additional machine guns mounted in wing pods. The French SB2Cs saw service in the Indochina War 1951–1954. A comparable scenario accompanied the Helldiver's service with the British. A total of 26 aircraft, out of 450 ordered, were delivered to the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm, where they were known as the Helldiver I. After unsatisfactory tests that pinpointed "appalling handling", none of the British Helldivers were used in action.
Source: Wikipedia.

There is the option with this kit to build two marks:
-SB2C-4, similar to the SB2C-1 but fitted with wing racks for eight 5 in (127 mm) rockets or 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs, 2,045 built.
-SB2C-5, similar to the SB2C-4 but with increased fuel capacity, frame less sliding canopy, tail hook fixed in extended position, and deletion of the ASB radar, 970 built (2,500 were canceled).

The Kit.

Contents come in the new Airfix style red box with top opening lid. The box itself feels very strong and should survive most postal journeys. The cover illustration is excellent featuring the Helldivers of VB-83 dive bombing a Japanese flat top. Also illustrated on the box are the two marking options available with this release. There is information about the Humbrol paints you will need for this kit on the side of the box as well. The kit is aimed at Skill level 2.

10 x small sprues of light grey plastic parts.
1 x small sprue of transparent plastic parts.
1 x sheet of decals.
1 x folded sheet of building and painting instructions.
Cockpit: the pilots office comprises a seat moulded onto the rear bulkhead. This and the control stick are glued onto the roof of the bomb bay which acts as the cockpit floor. The navigators position comprises of a forward bulkhead attached to the raised deck that surrounds the navigator. The deck has a few ejector pin marks and the part number that need to be removed. A scarf ring is attached to the deck around the opening for the navigator. The armament is made up of two separate .50 calibre guns that are attached to a mount. The walls of the cockpit are free of any ejection marks, but the navigators position has a few to eradicate. Obviously there is scope for much more detail if you are happy to scratch build or hopefully acquire a resin cockpit set in the near future. There are two figures included and they are nicely detailed. It's worth considering using the figures to hide the lack of detail.
Fuselage: is split vertically, each half is attached to a rather thick sprue. The fuselage is covered in a lot of raised rivets and a few raised panel lines. They don't look too bad until you look at some of the images of the Helldiver and realise there is hardly a raised rivet to be seen. So best advice would be to sand them off, not a big task, but worth it. Also rescribe some of those panel lines. There are some recessed details such as the hand and footholds, rudder and trim lines. In reality the hand and footholds covers would spring back. The representation of the stringers under the stretched canvas of the rudder is a bit on the heavy side. The two faired exhausts have a hint of a hole to represent the end of the pipe. A little drilling here would improve the look a lot. The arrestor hook is added before joining the two fuselage halves. The kit has the deep fairing around the tail oleo. There is a retractable vent moulded in the open position under the fuselage just behind the cooling gills that would benefit from a bit of drilling out.
The separate cowling for the Wright radial engine has a few raised panel lines. The cooling gills are also depicted this way and are moulded in the closed position. The lines of the grill in the upper vent are a bit inconsistent and the lower vent could do with opening up. The engine comes in two banks, the front bank is nicely detailed. The rear bank is not so well detailed and is attached to the rear fire wall. The Curtis four blade prop is not bad at all in shape. There are two types of spinner one for the SB2C-4 and the smaller diameter spinner for the SB2C-4. A radio aerial mast is fitted on the port side of the fuselage just aft of the engine cooling gills.
Canopy: comes in five parts with two options for the pilots canopy: framed for the SB-2C4 or frame less for the SB-2C5. It may be possible to have the canopies displayed open although this possibility is not mentioned in the instructions. The framing on the canopies is a little on the heavy side and the plastic is a bit thick.
Wings: comes in seven parts and as you may have guessed the kit does offer the option of displaying your Helldiver with folded wings.
The inner wings are made up from three parts. The one piece lower wing including the bomb bay has the dihedral set. There is no detail in the bomb bay or the wheel wells although the bomb bay is enclosed. The wheel bays on the other hand have no walls so it's possible to see into the wing space. There are a couple of slots in the upper wing where the folding mechanism is located. The two wing cannons are separate and are moulded to a small portion of the leading edge. The upper outer wing has a substantial hinge attached to it. The lower wing has some rather large holes where the rocket pylons are located. As with the fuselage there are many raised rivets and a few raised panel lines. The lines of the ailerons and airbrakes are recessed. An oddity with the kit ailerons is that the uppers look as if they are meant to look as if they are made from metal. Whereas the undersurface are stretched canvas. Photo references indicate that the ailerons are actually metal. The holes in the split airbrakes in the wing are represented by raised detail and the trailing edges off the air brakes are recessed to depict the serrated edge. The trailing edges will benefit from some thinning as they are rather thick. At the time when this kit was released the detail on the airbrakes probably looked quite effective, but in this age of PE parts they don't look so good. Eduard and White Ensign have made PE air brakes, but they are designed for the superior Academy kit. There is no detail or blanking plates at the wing fold joint if you decide to display the wings folded, so you can see into the space. There is the very distinctive cranked pitot tube to fit to the port wing and a couple of rather simplified Yagi antennae under the wings.
The two one piece tailplanes again have raised rivet and panel lines. The line of the elevators are recessed. The depiction of the stretched canvas on the elevators is a little on the heavy side. The plastic on the elevators is also slightly textured.
Undercarriage:there are two types of wheels included in this kit. The ones to use if you are having the undercarriage down. The other set of half wheels are used if you are wanting to display your Helldiver with wheels up. Both sets of wheels do suffer from raised and recessed ejection pin marks. The oleos look pretty good although there are some sizable locating pins for the undercarriage doors and the stiffening plate. The one piece undercarriage doors has some ejector pin marks on the inner faces. It is worth noting that many of the images I referenced for the Helldiver, show that part of the undercarriage door from the wheel hub up to the top of the tyre were removed. Tail wheel and oleo are one piece.
Load options include what looks like a 1000lb bomb for the bomb bay, two 500lb bombs or two fuel tanks that fit under the inner wing and eight rockets that fit under the outer wing. The bombs are probably better replaced with more authentic looking ones. The 1000lb bomb has a swing arm to attach. The arm will need to be carefully removed from the sprue as there is a lot of flash. The fuel tanks look good and have filler caps moulded on them. The rockets are not too bad although the tail fins are slab like, and the attachment points are could do with a little refining.
Dry fit: As you can see from the images there are a few gaps at the joint, but nothing a bit of filler and some thin plastic shims wont cure. If you decide to display your Helldiver with wings extended, then a couple of plastic spars will help lining things up and keeping the dihedral. The plastic is quite soft and I had no problems removing the parts from the sprues. Even the tricky looking joint between the fuselage and the sprue presented no problems removing.
Markings: as mentioned there are two options for markings:
-SB2C-4 Helldiver, VB-83 USS Essex, April 1944.
-SB2C-5 Helldiver, Flotille 9F, “Aeromanches” [formerly HMS Colossus], Aeronavae, Indo-China War, 1952.
The SB2C-4 on board the USS Essex is finished with white under surfaces, intermediate blue on the sides and gloss sea blue on the upper surfaces. The outer lower wing surfaces are painted intermediate blue.
SB2C-5 Helldiver on board the “Aeromanches” is finished oxford blue[!]
Decals: look very good. Colour depth is excellent and the decals are matt with very little carrier film around them, except around some of the letters and numbers. The very small stencils are amazingly legible. There are a significant number of stencils to apply, approximately 44 on the upper wings alone. The triangular marking on the tail and the wings of the VB-83 come as decals as does the rudder stripes of the French Navy aircraft. The price of the kit is worth the decal sheet alone.
Instructions:large three way folding sheet with two pages of building instructions and two pages of paint and decal instructions. Very clear building instructions using exploded black line drawings. For painting there are numbers referencing Humbrol paints for the smaller parts.

http://www.cybermodeler.com/aircraft/sb2c/sb2c_walk.shtml .

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtiss_SB2C_Helldiver .


I think the best way of looking at this kit is as if it was a limited run product. I bought the kit more for nostalgic reasons [I remember my Dad building it first time around when it was moulded in dark blue plastic], rather than as a kit to build. Yes those rivets need sanding down and panel lines need rescribing, and the gaps need sorting to create something more acceptable looking, the list goes on. Or you could just have fun and build it the way it is and practice your three colour US Navy scheme and try out some weathering techniques. I think this release despite it's age has a lot going for it. The Academy kit beats it hands down, but until that is re-released this will do fine. Cant wait to get stuck in.
Highs: Might be ancient, but if you are armed with scratch building skills this kit has possibilities. Has the option to display the wings folded. Excellent decal sheet.
Lows: Needs a lot of work.
Verdict: Recommended but needs lots of TLC and also worth having for those decals.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:72
  Mfg. ID: A02031
  Suggested Retail: £6.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Jul 28, 2011
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Tim Hatton (litespeed)

Aircraft are my primary interest from WWll to present day.

Copyright ©2021 text by Tim Hatton [ LITESPEED ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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