The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver is a dive bomber developed by Curtiss-Wright during World War II.
As a carrier-based bomber with the United States Navy (USN), in Pacific theatres, it supplemented and replaced the Douglas SBD Dauntless.
Initially poor handling characteristics and late modifications caused lengthy delays to production and deployment, to the extent that it was investigated by the Truman Committee, which turned in a scathing report.
This contributed to the decline of Curtiss as a company. Neither pilots nor aircraft carrier skippers seemed to like it.
Nevertheless, the type was faster than the Dauntless, and by the end of the Pacific War, the Helldiver had become the main dive bomber and attack aircraft on USN carriers.
By the time a land-based variant, known as the A-25 Shrike, became available in late 1943, the Western Allied air forces had abandoned dedicated dive-bombers.
A majority of A-25s delivered to the US Army Air Forces were transferred to the US Marine Corps, which used the type only in one side campaign and non-combat roles.
The British Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force also cancelled substantial orders, retaining only a few aircraft for research purposes.
The Helldiver was developed to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless.
It was a much larger aircraft, able to operate from the latest aircraft carriers and 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 “multirole” aircraft into the design.
The Model XSB2C-1 prototype initially suffered teething problems connected to its Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone engine and three-bladed propeller; further concerns included structural weaknesses, poor handling, directional instability, and bad stall characteristics.
In 1939, a student took a model of the new Curtiss XSB2C-1 to the MIT wind tunnel.
Professor of Aeronautical Engineering Otto C. Koppen was quoted as saying, “if they build more than one of these, they are crazy”.
He was referring to controllability issues with the small vertical tail.
The first prototype made its maiden flight on 18 December 1940.
It crashed on 8 February 1941 when its engine failed on approach, but Curtiss was asked to rebuild it.
The fuselage was lengthened, and a larger tail was fitted, while an autopilot was fitted to help the poor stability.
The revised prototype flew again on 20 October 1941, but was destroyed when its wing failed during diving tests on 21 December 1941.
Large-scale production had already been ordered on 29 November 1940, but a large number of modifications were specified for the production model.
Fin and rudder area were increased, fuel capacity was increased, self-sealing fuel tanks were added, and the fixed armament was doubled to four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns in the wings, compared with the prototype’s two cowling guns.
The SB2C-1 was built with larger fuel tanks, improving its range considerably.
The program suffered so many delays that the Grumman TBF Avenger entered service before the Helldiver, even though the Avenger had begun its development two years later.
Nevertheless, production tempo accelerated with production at Columbus, Ohio and two Canadian factories: Fairchild Aircraft Ltd. (Canada), which produced 300 (under the designations XSBF-l, SBF-l, SBF-3, and SBF-4E), and Canadian Car and Foundry, which built 894 (designated SBW-l, SBW-3, SBW-4, SBW-4E, and SBW-5), these models being respectively equivalent to their Curtiss-built counterparts.
A total of 7,140 SB2Cs were produced in World War II.
Prototype powered by a 1,700 hp (1,268 kW) R-2600-8 engine.
Production version for United States Navy with four 0.50 in (12.7 mm) wing guns and one 0.30 in (7.62 mm) dorsal gun, 200 built.
Original designation for United States Army Air Corps version which became A-25A later used for 410 A-25As transferred to the United States Marine Corps.
SB2C-1 with two 20 mm (0.79 in) wing-mounted cannons and hydraulically operated flaps, 778 built.
One SB2C-1 fitted with twin floats in 1942.
Production float plane version, 287 cancelled and not built.
One SB2C-1 re-engined with a 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) R-2600-20.
As SB2C-1c re-engined with a 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) R-2600-20 and four-bladed propeller, 1,112 built.
SB2C-3s fitted with APS-4 radar.
SB2C-1c but fitted with wing racks for eight 5 in (127 mm) rockets or 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs, 2,045 built.
SB2C-4s fitted with APS-4 radar.
Two SB2C-4s converted as prototypes for -5 variant.
SB2C-4 with increased fuel capacity, frameless sliding canopy, tailhook fixed in extended position, and deletion of the ASB radar, 970 built (2,500 cancelled).
Two SB2C-1Cs fitted with 2,100 hp (1,566 kW) R-2600-22 engine and increased fuel capacity.
Canadian built version of the SB2C-1, 50 built by Fairchild-Canada
Canadian built version of the SB2C-3, 150 built by Fairchild-Canada.
Canadian built version of the SB2C-4E, 100 built by Fairchild-Canada.
Canadian built version of the SB2C-1, 38 built by Canadian Car & Foundry company.
Canadian built version for lend-lease to the Royal Navy as the Helldiver I, 28 aircraft built by Canadian Car & Foundry company.
Canadian built version of the SB2C-3, 413 built by Canadian Car & Foundry company.
Canadian built version of the SB2C-4E, 270 built by Canadian Car & Foundry company.
Canadian-built version of the SB2C-5, 85 built (165 cancelled) by the Canadian Car & Foundry company.
United States Army Air Corps version without arrester gear or folding wings and equipment changed, 900 built.
Royal Navy designation for 28 Canadian-built SBW-1Bs