by George Grasse




The SBC-3 Helldiver three-view from Squadron-Signal's SBC Helldiver in Action.1   This version and the -4 Helldiver were the last biplane carrier-based combat aircraft of the U. S. Navy.


A total of 257 SBC-3/-4 aircraft were delivered to the U. S. Navy/U. S. Marines/U. S. Naval Reserve and excludes aircraft sold to foreign countries and private institutions. 2  


SBC Model Serial Qty Cum Deployment Year
SBC-3 0507 - 0589a 83 83 USN 1937
SBC-4 1268 - 1325b 58 141 USN 1939
1474 - 1504 31 172 USN 1939
1809 - 1843 35 207 USN 1939
4199 - 4248 50 257 USN 1940

a BurNo 0582 became the XSBC-4

b BurNo 1287 went to VMF-2 July 1939, first USMC SBC-4


By the mid-1930s, the U. S. Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) was beginning to focus seriously on the development of monoplane aircraft for fleet aviation operations.  The immediate predecessor to the SBC-3/-4 series was the XSBC-2 which first flew in December 1935.   Engine problems plagued this design and an upgraded Pratt & Whitney R-1535-82 engine was installed.  The designation was changed to XSBC-3 and it proved to be an acceptable aircraft so much so that BuAer placed a contract with Curtiss for 83 SBC-3 two-seat, biplane dive bombers. 3

Fleet acceptance of the SBC-3 began in July 1937.  USS Yorktown CV-5 was still in trials and its scouting squadron VS-5 was land-based at the time.  In December 1937, USS Yorktown had completed its trials and took on board VS-5 (SBC-3 dive bombers) and VF-5 (F2F-1 fighters).  Other aircraft carriers followed: USS Saratoga CV-3, received SBC-3s for its scouting squadron, VS-3; USS Enterprise CV-6, had its, then, land-based scouting squadron VS-6 equipped with the SBC-3; USS Enterprise CV-2, in 1939, was the last to equip its scouting squadron, VS-2, with the SBC-3. 4

 By 1939, the first of the improved SBC-4 reached fleet deployment to the USS Lexington CV-2, replacing its SBC-3s.  Surplus SBC-3s to fleet operations began re-deployment as air group command aircraft and as trainers.  All of the other aircraft carriers (CV-3, CV-5, and CV-6) continued with the SBC-3 until eventually replaced by the Douglas SBD series of monoplane dive bombers.


LIFE MAGAZINE PHOTO:  This photo was taken from www.flickr.com/photos/18532986  and shows SBC-3 "Helldiver" 6-S-18 BurNo 0517 of USS Enterprise CV-6 during maneuvers in Hawaiian waters September 1940.  Note the overall aluminum finish with yellow-orange on the upper surface of the top wing, true blue tail unit designation USS Enterprise (CV-6), and the lower half of the engine cowling in yellow denoting this as the third aircraft of the sixth section of U. S. Navy squadron VS-6. 


21 August 2012
BASIC FUSELAGE INTERIOR: The kit is largely without the "easy" locating lugs found in Eduard kits so positioning of interior components was a bit nagging with a lot of trial and re-trial fitting.  The sidewalls are PE components that add greatly to the interior detail.  After attaching kit components, I started adding gauges and boxes.  The forward wheel well bulkheads wee molded with the components shown and these went in place exceptionally well.  The fuselage halves were primed with Tamiya's Fine Spray Primer and then over sprayed with Tamiya's TM 85083 Metallic Silver.


25 August 2012
ANOTHER VIEW:  Added since the last photo is the scratch-built pilot's headrest attached to the front of the roll bar in its "yet to be painted" form.  Note the relatively massive radio set.  Much more detail to be added.


2 September 2012
YELLOW WINGS: The top surface of the upper wing is painted in Tamiya TM 85034 Camel Yellow, a close approximation to Orange-Yellow which was made official per BuAer Technical Order No. 101.  Later, both services (USN and USAAC) standardized the color as ANA614 Orange Yellow.  For hand brushing, Mister Kit MKUS17 is a good match.  The undersides are not yet painted.  The horizontal tail is hand-brushed in Model Master ME2030 True Blue (FS15102).


23 December 2012
FUSELAGE AND LOWER WING: The fuselage interior was touched-up and the pilot's control column added.  With that, the fuselage halves were joined, wrapped in rubber bands, and allowed to dry overnight.  Putty was added all along the fuselage seams and allowed to dry overnight.  Sanding was done with fine 300 grit sand paper.  The lower wing assembly was dry-fitted to the fuselage each time an adjustment cut was made.  Finally, after about 5 or 6 cuts and trims, the lower wing was glued to the fuselage and allowed to dry overnight.  More putty was used to fill the joints.  When dry, these were sanded down with 300 grit sandpaper.


23 December 2012
ENGINE AND BOMB: The kit's engine has been augmented by a collector ring around the base of the front engine cover.  To this ring were added the individual fuel injection tubes made from brass rod.  The 500-pound bomb was taken from another kit and will be used instead of the long range fuel tank supplied in the kit.

27 December 2012
LANDING GEAR: The tail wheel is a frail resin component.  I removed the "stem" and inserted a brass rod for strength.  The main landing gear wheels and the tail wheel are sitting in place, not glued yet.  The landing gear assembly was actually straight forward.  The cockpit area has been masked off and the underside has already been sprayed with Tamiya TM8512 Bare Metal Silver.

6 January 2013
TAIL UNIT: Each of the horizontal tail parts had one coat of Model Master ME2030 True Blue (FS15102). Each had a brass pin installed to help line up their locations during the gluing process which went quite well.  The underside braces were brass rod more to reinforce the model's tail unit.  I applied a coat of True Blue to the vertical tail unit.  When dry, I brushed a final coat to all tail unit surfaces.

6 January 2013
LANDING GEAR AND ENGINE:  The kit's tail wheel support structure was discarded.  Instead, I build a sturdy unit.  First, I glued a small block of plastic to the inside top of the rear fuselage decking.  Into this I drill a hole to take a brass rod.  Over the brass rod is a small diameter brass tube.  The brass rod is recessed about a quarter inch so that the small music wire pin glued into the tail wheel fits into the brass tube.  All of these components were super glued and allowed to dry.  A piece of white cardstock (visible above) was used for the door.  It had a small hole drilled in it to which was glued a brass tube that was, in turn, glued to the main brass tube/rod strut.  A hole was drilled into the bottom rear of the tail.  A brass rod representing the tail hook was shaped and glued.
The cowling was primed inside and out.  The inside was painted with Vallejo VC0864 Natural Steel.  The pre-painted radial engine dry-fitted to the inside of the cowling several times to observe how the cylinders lined up according to actual photos.  It was then glued to the inside of the cowling. 

The propeller was pre-painted separately with Vallejo VC0864 Natural Steel a highlighted with VC0997 Silver.  The kit's propeller logo decals were applied but the decals for the tri-colored warning tips fell apart over such a narrow surface.  I painted the area where the three stripes would be with Vallejo VC0953 Flat Yellow.  This took two coats.  The red tips were painted with Vallejo VC0947 Vermillion Red and the blue was painted with Andrea ANAC22 Prussian Blue.

The last step was gluing the cowling with engine to the front of the fuselage.  Several dry fit steps were taken from different angles to be sure the cowling was centered.  It was then glued in place with plastic cement and its position noted again from different angles.  The slower drying of the plastic cement allowed for adjustments. 

18 January 2013
DECALS, PART 1:  The specific aircraft to be modeled is shown in the fifth panel of this article from the top.  It shows a photograph of SBC-3 BurNo 0517 "6-S-18" being readied for takeoff on CV-6 USS Enterprise.  The decals for this aircraft were gathered from different sources.  White "SBC-3" and black "U.S. NAVY" came from the kit.  A fellow modeler supplied the VS-6 squadron insignia and white "0517".  The squadron designator black "6-S-18" came from the Yellow Wings decal set 48-023 USN 1932-1942 Standard 12" Numbers & Squadron Designators - Black".

    All rigging holes were drilled out on the underside of the top wing and the topside of the lower wing.  The underside of the top wing has locator holes for all of the struts.  However, the fuselage is void of locator holes for "cabane" struts.  What panel lines exist on the model's fuselage surface do not line up with multi-view drawings I have so I'm not exactly sure where they go!  The wing struts were glued in place so I can lightly tack the "cabane" struts to the underside of the top wing and see where the comfortably fall.  Then I can determine the location of the "cabane" struts and pre-drill their location holes.  Obviously, I plan to use the kit's plastic struts but I will rig the model with piano wire for strength.

24 February 2013
THE 500 LB BOMB:  I substituted the kit's long range fuel tank for a 500 lb bomb.  I drilled through the side of the bomb and inserted a brass pin.  Corresponding holes were drilled into the cradle's attachment points.  Two more holes were drilled into the topside of the bomb to line up with two corresponding holes drilled into the bottom of the fuselage; two brass rods served as attachment points for the bomb to the fuselage.  The front end of the cradle was glued to the fuselage lug.

27 February 2013
FINISHING THE TOP WING:  The kit's decals did not provide chevron and pin stripe markings for this particular aircraft of Scouting Six.  I "fabricated" the chevron in two pieces cut from a lemon yellow decal sheet.  I then purchased the Yellow Wings decal sheet YW4004 "USN Black & White 1" Pin Stripes 1931-1941" and applied the black outline you see in four pieces.  Holes were drilled for the gun camera and the black "18" decal was applied from the Yellow Wings decal sheet YW4023 USN Squadron 12 Inch Letters and Numbers - Black.  Ailerons (upper and under sides) were outlined in my dark brown/black liner.  The kit's "red dot" national insignia were used although the red should be darker.  Port and starboard flying lights were painted at the wingtips.  

2 March 2013
FINAL FUSELAGE DETAILS BEFORE THE TOP WING IS ATTACHED: After temporarily attaching the top wing, I was able to locate the position of the "cabane" struts on the fuselage.  These were drilled out. I drilled out all rigging holes on the fuselage and wings.

The pilot's forward firing machine gun is represented by a small length of brass tube and is barely visible (but not in this photo).  The pilot's gun sight from the kit was added with a supporting piece of brass rod and a carefully drilled hole through the windscreen.  

I tackled the gunner's rear machine gun for which little is supplied in the kit.  I substituted the .30 caliber machine gun for a better casting from another kit.  Half of it will be hidden in the "turtle deck".  I made the half-circle elevating gun ring from flattened brass tubing that was bent into shape and secured to two lugs on the rear decking.  The machine gun was mounting via a brass pin.  The ammunition box was from the kit.

The canopy was somewhat of a problem.  I wanted all of the canopy sections to be stacked and there was no way to thin them down so they would stack properly.  As it turned out, the only thing to do was glue them down one at a time with super glue starting with the smallest canopy section.  The pilot's canopy section was the last added.  All of the panes were painted in Vallejo VC0864 Natural Steel. 

13 March 2013
UPPER WING ATTACHMENT (Rigging discussed in the next panel below):  Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult kits I've built and getting the top wing on is one reason.  In an earlier step, the outboard wing struts were set in place, the wing was temporarily attached, and measurements were taken to locate the placement of the cabane struts.  When it came time to attach the upper wing, none of the cabane struts came close to a fit.  At first, I tried moving the locating holes down the fuselage but this proved to be at great odds to the drawings.  Reluctantly, I started cutting down the struts to fit.  It got to the point where the struts became flimsy so I had to make a pair of rear struts out of brass tube and brass rod to take the weight and stress of the top wing.

To start the fabrication, I used 1/16" diameter K&S brass tubing which has a thicker wall than the Griffon Models products I use on most World War 1 aircraft. The struts were cut to length.  A brass rod was inserted to prevent the tube walls from being crushed and serve as locator pins.  Each strut was pounded to approximately the aerofoil cross section.  One end of each of the rear cabane struts does not have a fairing; only the bottom portion had to have a fairing reproduced which I fashioned from a relatively thick piece of lead sheet.  This folded over nicely and was super glued in place.  I "dry fitted" the wing onto the outboard struts and the rear cabane struts, a kind of balancing act with four objects.  To my great surprise, the wing fit was perfect!  Imagine that!  I went ahead and super glued the top wing onto the outboard struts with the rear cabane struts loose in their locating holes.  I held the join in  position until the super glue set.  Then, I super glued the rear cabane struts using a fine piece of wire as an applicator making sure the glue got into the holes and onto the pins.

The kit's front cabane struts of plastic had to be slightly cut down at their tops.  A small hole was drilled into each end and brass rods were glued in place after the fit was perfect.  The front cabane struts were glued in place and it was done!

15 March 2013
RIGGING:  The rigging wire used on the SBC-3 is substantially heavier than the .005 monofilament thread I use on World War 1 aircraft so I resorted to custom cutting each piece from .012 music wire.  This is always relatively time consuming cutting and fitting each piece, sometimes more than just a few times.  The ends have to be slightly bent and the perfectly fitted to avoid unnatural bends and bows in the wire.  Not yet completed, however, are the reinforcing spacer bars.

18 March 2013
ERROR CORRECTIONS:  These last steps are primarily devoted to correcting mistakes still lingering on this model and here they are:

1) the starboard side VS-6 Aztec Indian insignia was slightly damaged by an attempt to touch-up paint around the right rear cabane strut.  A bit of silver/aluminum was accidentally brushed across the insignia's right wing.  Attempts with solvents failed to remove the paint and when I resorted to mineral spirits, the paint came off and so did the damaged part of the decal!  I found an image of the unit's insignia in "Wings of the Fleet" and prepared to make my own decals.  I use ACDSee 14 for image management and was able to reduce the insignia down to the same size as the decal.  I cut off a matching piece of the wing, soaked the decal, and applied it.

2) One of the lower wing "red dots" on the national insignia disappeared.   The shade of red is relatively bright compared to Yellow Wings which I just purchased.  So, I searched my decal reserves and found a matching set on an unused sheet from Hobbycraft's P-26C.  It was a perfect match.

3)  While installing the cabane struts, I saw the need to touch up the upper forward fuselage.  The original paint was Tamiya's TM8017 Aluminum Silver.  I sprayed a small amount on wax paper and proceeded to brush on the paint.  Unfortunately, perhaps because of a chemical reaction with the wax, the shade did not come close to matching.  And that left unusual streaking as seen in the photo 15, just above the Aztec Indian insignia.  I had painted the cowling with Misterkit MKFC01 French Aluminum and repainted the area.  It's pretty close.

21 March 2013
LAST STEP - RADIO ANTENNA WIRING:  I used dark gray .005 monofilament thread for the antenna wires.  There are three "posts": one on each outer wing panel of the top wing and one on the fin.  I used Griffon Model GCP-BHP02 Brass Tube OD .5mm, ID .33mm for each of these "posts".  Into each tube "post", I glued a generous length of .005 monofilament thread.  I added one short insulation component near the posts and glued them into position. The connection on the fin was a cut-down Eduard turnbuckle with a loop on one end and as much PE material as could be cut for the gluing stem.  This was glued to the top of the stem.  I gathered up the two lines, added the "horizontal" post, pulled the aerial wires through it and tied them off at looped turnbuckle. 

I noted on the port aerial where a line would run down and into the radio compartment.  I knotted a short piece of .005 at the spot, measured the distance (allowing for slack), made the cut, inserted the end into the pre-drilled hole, and glued it in place.  I painted all the insulation parts white.

23 March 2013


--------------------------------------------   FINIS  --------------------------------------------


1 Doll, Thomas E.  SBC Helldiver in Action.  This is the preeminent source for modelers with two especially helpful photos on page 9 of the pilot's and gunner's cockpit interiors.

2 Bowers, Peter M.  Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947, pages 370-371 for BurNo serials.

3 Doll, Thomas E.  SBC Helldiver in Action, page 5.

4 Doll, Thomas E.  SBC Helldiver in Action, page 8.


MODELING REFERENCES (In addition to the Bibliography, these sources are excellent for modeling details and unit markings)

Freeman, Peter and Mike Starmer.  Wings of the Fleet - US Navy & Marine Aviation 1919-1941, On Target Special. Ardington, North Wantage, Oxfordshire, UK: The Aviation Workshop Publications, 2010.

Jamison, Kelly.  Classic Airframes 1/48 SBC-3 Helldiver Preview (kit review).  http://modelingmadness.com/reviews/preww2/jamisonsbcpreview.com

Larkins, William T.  U. S. Navy Aircraft 1921-1941 / U. S. Marine Corps Aircraft 1914-1959.  Atglen, PA: Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1995.

Schrock, Bernhard.  Classic Airframes' 1/48 Scale Curtiss SBC-3 Helldiver (kit build).  http://hsfeatures.com/features04/sbc3bs_1.htm

Wolf, Michael.  Classic Airframes 1/48 SBC-3 Helldiver (kit build).  http://modelingmadness.com/reviews/preww2/wolfsbc.htm



Bowers, Peter M.  Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979.

Doll, Thomas E.  SBC Helldiver in Action.  Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1995.