Back on March 1st, we reported on the Military Aviation Museum’s acquisition of Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Bu.36175 in a deal with the National Naval Aviation Museum. The airframe, although incomplete, was in excellent condition despite its half-century sojourn on the bottom of Lake Michigan (and the post-recovery, parts cannibalization process to restore other SBDs). The Military Aviation Museum (MAM) displayed the wing-less fuselage for public viewing at their main site in Pungo, Virginia this past month, and has now announced their plans for the iconic WWII dive-bomber’s restoration. Furthermore, MAM also announced their successful negotiation with former naval aviator and US Airways captain, Kevin Smith, to purchase his Douglas A-24B Banshee project, and the substantial cache of Dauntless components he has collected over the past few decades (including the all-important outer wing panels missing from MAM’s example).
To speed up the process, MAM has decided to split the restoration between two well-established workshops, with Bu.36175’s fuselage going to Pioneer Aero Ltd. at Ardmore Airport outside Auckland, New Zealand, and the wings going to AeroTrader in Chino, California.
As readers will remember, Pioneer Aero successfully completed the restoration of MAM’s Bell P-39F Airacobra 41-2175, which flew for the first time in early 2019, so the two parties already have an excellent working relationship. As Pioneer noted: “We are very proud to be asked by The Fighter Factory and Military Aviation Museum to carry out the restoration of the SBD-5 Dauntless B-22 Serial Number 36175. To be involved with this iconic aircraft is a big honour… The fact the Dauntless also served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force has a strong connection with us. The airfield where they were based while in New Zealand is only a few miles from our hanger at Ardmore Airfield, itself a WW2 era base.”
AeroTrader, of course, is well-known for the world-class quality of their restorations. The company, founded by the legendary Carl Scholl and Tony Ritzman, has built a solid reputation over the past four decades. While they have focused a good deal of attention on the North American B-25 Mitchell, with more than a dozen examples restored back to flying condition through their shop, they have a wide range of expertise, including more exotic types such as the Douglas A-20 Havoc and Martin B-26 Marauder. The Dauntless is not an unfamiliar subject either, as AeroTrader has helped Kevin Smith on numerous occasions with his Dauntless/Banshee project over the years as well. Indeed it was a masterstroke for MAM to purchase Kevin Smith’s holdings, as this will help accelerate the overall restoration time by several years. Smith had already collected and restored a lot of the hard-to-find items, including the ultra-rare rear gunner’s turret and bomb-aimers sighting tube. His Dauntless restoration was based around the forward fuselage of an Army Air Forces’ variant of the breed, Douglas A-24B Banshee 42-54593. This cut-down airframe owed its survival to its post-Army service duties as a wind machine on movie sets with MGM Studios in Culver City, California. Smith bolstered this project with substantial components from other airframes, including a set of wings acquired in a trade with the National Naval Aviation Museum during the early 2000s. He spent a lot of time on the restoration himself, with help from volunteers and other restoration shops, and had made marked progress, but it is a massive undertaking for any one person to fulfill. While he was sad to see the project move on, he was delighted in knowing that his dream is in safe hands and that it will likely fly again in the not-too-distant future. We shall monitor progress as details emerge. Watch this space…!