In a project that began for them in 2011, Vultures Row Aviation has mad significant progress in their restoration of Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless BuNo 10694 that was raised from the bottom of Lake Michigan in 1994, having laid under the waves for about five decades.
The Dauntless had an short but eventful career with the navy. Built in El Segundo, California and accepted by the Navy on March 17, 1943, 10694 was flown to the nearby Naval Air Station (NAS) Roosevelt, which was part of the larger NAS Terminal Island base in Los Angeles Harbor and was where the Navy formally took delivery of the craft. From there 10694 went to NAS Seattle where it joined Composite Squadron 34 (VC-34), though about a month later it was re-depolyed to NAS Alameda on San Francisco Bay and assigned to Bombing Squadron Five (VB-5). In July 1943 the plane was transferred to Bombing Squadron Eighteen VB-18 though the assignment lasted only 10 days before the plane was reassigned yet again, this time to Scouting Squadron 52 (VS-52). VS-52 utilized the plane for operational training to get flight crews ready for combat and BuNo 10594 performed these duties until January 23rd 1944 when it was assigned to NAS Jacksonville, across the country in Florida, then on to the Naval Operational Training Command Carrier Qualification Unit as NAS Glenview in Illinois, arriving May 29, 1944. Less than a month after arriving at the Great Lakes, the plane suffered an engine failure on takeoff from the carrier training ship the USS Sable, one of two converted coal-fired excursion steamers that had been converted into makeshift aircraft carriers to train crews on ship-based takeoff and landing techniques.
On the fatefull day that ended the plane’s military career, she was piloted by Ensign James Todaro. During what was the plane’s sixth takeoff from the carrier that day, the engine quit just after the plane had lauched and The plane dropped into the water directly in front of the aircraft carrier, and though the Sable tried to turn to avoid running over the floating plane and its pilot, who was trying to exit the plane, in an eerily familiar occurrence, the USS Sable ended up hitting the plane, splitting the fuselage just behind the cockpit. Todaro did manage to escape in time however and went on to fly again though the plane sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
In the mid-nineties the National Museum of Naval Aviation contracted A&T Recovery of Chicago, Illinois to recover some of the estimated 135-300 lost WWII-era planes lost in the lake while training with the USS Sable or its sister ship the USS Wolverine during their years in use. Under the terms of the agreement A&T would hold one of the planes raised and the museum would have a year to pay for it. A&T Brought 10694 to the surface in 1994 and after a year with no payment from the Museum, they received clear title to the remains.
The plane was first sold to a collector in Florida, then by collector Jim Slattery for a planned Naval aircraft museum in San Diego, California. Slattery sent the Dauntless to Vultures Row for restoration, arriving in 2011. Vultures Row, named after the nickname given to the observation area(s) located on the island of an aircraft carrier from which observers can view flight deck operations, specializes in US Navy tail hook planes, and is no stranger to restoration, having already produced two national multi-award winning aircraft, a North American T-28C Trojan and a North American SNJ-5C Texan. The Vultures Row Aviation facility blends old world low tech craftsmanship including english wheels, wooden forms and traditional metal forming techniques and cutting edge technology, laser scanning parts and 3D modeling from which their CNC machines which can accurately reproduce a part within 1/5000th of an inch, from either a laser scan or from CAD files generated from their extensive research library of original Microfilm engineering drawings.
After nearly three years under Vultures Row care, the Dauntless’s major assemblies are coming together and it is beginning to look like a plane again, being rebuilt along side the other major restoration project underway, Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Once completed the Dauntless will join Slattery’s extensive collection of 40+ airworthy warbird aircraft at the announced, but yet to be completed, Greatest Generation Naval Museum as well as being campaigned to air shows in the Western United States.