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Douglas Devastator

The Douglas TBD Devastator was a torpedo bomber utilized by the United States Navy.

Its production was commissioned in 1934, with its maiden flight taking place in 1935, and it was officially put into service in 1937.

At the time of its introduction, it was considered the most advanced aircraft in use by the Navy, and potentially the most advanced in the world.

However, the rapid pace of aircraft development quickly rendered it obsolete, and by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the TBD was already outdated.

The Devastator initially performed well in early battles, most notably in the Battle of Coral Sea.

However, it gained notoriety for its catastrophic performance during the Battle of Midway, in which 41 Devastators failed to record any torpedo hits, with only six surviving to return to their carriers.

The Mitsubishi Zero fighters that the Devastators faced vastly outclassed them in both speed and manoeuvrability.

As a result, most of the force was wiped out, with little consequence except to distract the Zeros from the SBD Dauntless dive bombers that sank four carriers and a heavy cruiser.

Although much of the Devastator’s dismal performance was later attributed to the many well-documented defects in the US Mark 13 torpedo, the aircraft was withdrawn from frontline service after Midway, being replaced by the Grumman TBF Avenger.

The Douglas XTBD-1 was procured on 30 June 1934, following its victory in a competition held by the US Navy for new bombers to be deployed from its aircraft carriers.

Other aircraft that were also ordered for production as a result of the competition included the Brewster SBA, the Vought SB2U Vindicator, and the Northrop BT-1, the latter of which would later evolve into the Douglas SBD Dauntless.

The Great Lakes XB2G, Great Lakes XTBG, Grumman XSBF, Hall XPTBH, and Vought XSB3U were also submitted to the specification, but were not developed beyond the prototype stage.

The XTBD Devastator made its maiden flight on 15 April 1935, marking several “firsts” for the US Navy.

It was the first American carrier-based monoplane to be widely used, the first all-metal naval aircraft, the first with a completely enclosed cockpit, and the first with power-actuated (hydraulically) folding wings.

A semi-retractable landing gear was installed, with the wheels protruding 10 in (250 mm) below the wings to potentially limit damage to the aircraft in a “wheels-up” landing.

A crew of three was typically carried beneath a large “greenhouse” canopy that was almost half the length of the aircraft.

The pilot occupied the front seat, a rear gunner/radio operator took the rearmost position, while the bombardier occupied the middle seat.

During a bombing run, the bombardier lay prone, sliding into position under the pilot to sight through a window in the bottom of the fuselage, using the Norden bombsight.

The standard TBD offensive armament consisted of either a 1,935 lb (878 kg) Bliss-Leavitt Mark 13 aerial torpedo or a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb carried semi-recessed in the fuselage.

Alternatively, three 500 lb (230 kg) general-purpose bombs (one under each wing root and one inside the fuselage), or twelve 100 lb (45 kg) fragmentation bombs (six under each wing root), could be carried.

This weapons load was often used when attacking Japanese targets on the Gilbert and Marshall Islands in 1942.

Defensive armament consisted of a .30 in (7.62 mm) Browning machine gun for the rear gunner.

Fitted in the starboard side of the cowling was either a .30 in (7.62 mm) or .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine gun.

The powerplant was an 850 hp (630 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp radial engine, a development of the prototype’s 800 hp (600 kW) Pratt & Whitney XR-1830-60/R-1830-1.

Other changes from the 1935 prototype included a revised engine cowling and a raised cockpit canopy to improve visibility.

The XTBD had a flat canopy that was replaced on production models by a higher, domed canopy with a rollover bar.

Other than requests by test pilots to improve pilot visibility, the prototype easily passed its acceptance trials that ran from 24 April to 24 November 1935 at NAS (Naval Air Station) Anacostia and Norfolk bases.

After successfully completing torpedo drop tests, the prototype was transferred to the Lexington for carrier certification.

The extended service trials continued until 1937 with the first two production aircraft retained by the company exclusively for testing.

The US Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) purchased 129 examples, and began to equip the carriers USS Saratoga, Enterprise, Lexington, Wasp, Hornet, Yorktown, and Ranger starting in 1937.

Even before the war, TBD units were being shifted to training duties, with at least one aircraft being converted to target tug duty.

By 1940, the US Navy was aware that the TBD had become outclassed and a replacement, the Grumman TBF Avenger, was in the works, but it was not yet operational when the US entered World War II.

Attrition had by then reduced their numbers to just over 100 aircraft.

When the US Navy assigned popular names to its aircraft in late 1941, the TBD became the Devastator, although its nickname “torpecker” was still commonly used.
Prototype powered by an 800 hp (600 kW) XR-1830-60, one built.
Production variant powered by an 850 hp (630 kW) R-1830-64, 129 built.
One TBD-1 modified with twin floats.
35 ft 0 in (10.67 m)
50 ft 0 in (15.24 m)
15 ft 1 in (4.60 m)
Wing area
422 sq ft (39.2 m2)
Empty weight
5,600 lb (2,540 kg)
Gross weight
9,289 lb (4,213 kg)
Max take-off weight
10,194 lb (4,624 kg)
1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-64 Twin Wasp,
14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial piston engine,
900 hp (670 kW)
3-bladed variable-pitch propeller
Maximum speed
206 mph (332 km/h, 179 kn) at 8,000 ft (2,400 m)
Cruise speed
128 mph (206 km/h, 111 kn)
435 mi (700 km, 378 nmi) with Mark 13 torpedo
716 mi (622 nmi; 1,152 km) with 1,000 lb (450 kg) of bombs
Service ceiling
19,500 ft (5,900 m)
Rate of climb
720 ft/min (3.7 m/s)
1 × forward-firing 0.30 in (7.62 mm) Browning machine gun or 0.50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine gun
1 × 0.30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun in rear cockpit
1 × Mark 13 torpedo
1 × 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb
2 × 500 lb (230 kg) bombs
12 × 100 lb (45 kg) bombs.
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company 1st 75 Years Aviation Book-McDonnell Douglas.
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920, Volume 1-René J Francillon.
San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Legends of Warfare Aviation, Douglas TBD Devastator – America’s First World War II Torpedo Bomber-David Doyle.
Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Naval Fighters No.71-Steve Ginter.
Douglas TBD-1 Devastator-Aero Series 23.
The Douglas TBD-1 Devastator-Profile Publications 171.
TBD Devastator in Action-Squadron Signal 97.

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