Seventy-three years ago today, the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver took flight for the first time. A carrier-based dive and torpedo bomber, the Helldiver was designed to replace the Douglas SBD Dauntless. SB2Cs were large aircraft due to the requirement of an internal bomb bay; Helldivers were built to carry a 2,000 pound bomb internally, or two smaller 1,600 pound weapons, or a torpedo. SB2Cs first went to war with VB-17 on the USS Bunker Hill in November 1943 and the Navy used the platform in every major surface action as an integral part of its carrier air groups until the end of the war. The bane of Navy pilots because of reliability problems and difficult handling characteristics, the Helldiver picked up the derogatory nickname “Beast” and “Son of a Bitch, 2nd Class” (after its designation).
About 7,200 Helldivers were built. The CAF Helldiver is the only SB2C still flying. She is a SB2C-5, the last production variant of this aircraft. She was utilized by the Navy from 5 July 1945 through 31 August 1948. The CAF West Texas Wing‘s website reports that She was assigned as a pool aircraft to various locations, primarily in California. Her final assignment was with the pool at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas in April 1948. She was removed from active service on 31 August 1948 and declared surplus on 14 October 1948. This SB2C was used by an aeronautical school for several years and was procured by a California museum in May 1963. A CAF member purchased the aircraft from the museum and donated her to the CAF on 20 December 1971. The original colors and markings on the aircraft were probably VA-1B NAS Alameda, California from February through September 1947.
She experienced engine failure in 1982 and suffered extensive damage while making an emergency landing. Many said “The Beast would never fly again”. However, the members of the West Texas Wing did not accept this proposition. After thousands of volunteer man hours and a project cost in excess of $200,000, “The Beast” did fly again in September 1988. The current colors and markings are those of the carrier U.S.S. Franklin CV-13. “The Beast” is Currently based at the West Houston Squadron in Houston, Texas.