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Douglas SBD Dauntless

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The Dauntless played a pivotal role for the United States Navy during the early part of the war in the Pacific as its foremost dive bomber. The Douglas SBD Dauntless would also go on to play a major role in both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.

Quick Facts
Douglas SBD Dauntless side profile image
First flight
1st May 1940
Entered service
End of 1940
Total built

Front view
Sorry, no view photo available
Side view
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Rear view
Sorry, no view photo available

The roots of the SBD lay in another aircraft, the Northrop BT-1, which entered service with the United States Navy during Spring 1938. A production version of the BT-1 was to be used as a prototype for a new dive bomber for naval use, which was designated XBT-2. However by the time this new aircraft entered production Northrop had been brought by the Douglas company and the designation of the aircraft was changed to SBD.

Whilst this new aircraft looked on the surface similar to the XBT-2 underneath it was a different story. Powered by a 1,000-hp Wright XR-1820-32 engine and featuring retractable undercarriage, dive brakes or 'Swiss cheese' flaps, featuring 3-inch holes punched into them and other numerous changes including watertight compartments.

Early testing of this new aircraft showed its supremacy over the BT-1 and its remarkable performance and flight characteristics showed it was a phenomenal aircraft at the time. As a result an order was placed for 144 aircraft, 57 of these would be SBD-1s and the rest SBD-2s which featured revisions to their armament and expanded fuel capacity. Yet just two years later in 1941 it would be considered obsolete.

Towards the end of 1940 the SBD-1 started to enter service with the United States Marine Corps. Firstly equipping Squadron VMB-2 with VMB-1 receiving their SBDs during the early months of 1941. The newer SBD-2s were delivered to the USN with squadron VB-6 aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and VB-2 based on the USS Lexington (CV-2) receiving the new aircraft towards the end of 1941. In fact 18 SBDs from the USS Enterprise (CV-6) arrived at Pearl Harbor whilst it was being attacked and lost seven aircraft.

Development of the Dauntless continued and the next version designated SBD-3 started to see service in March 1941, once again the fuel capacity was increased and self-sealing tanks were added, the Wright R-1820-52 engine was used, although this still only produced 1,000-hp. The armament was also changed to what would become the standard configuration of two 0.50-in forward firing and two 0.30-in rear firing machine guns, increased protection was also added in the shape of a bullet proof windscreen and armour plating. With its 12-volt electrical system upgraded to a 24-volt system the SBD-4 appeared, and with a total production of the SBD-3 and SBD-4 of 1,364 these in demand aircraft were able to supply more United States Navy and United States Marine Corps squadrons.

The next version of the Dauntless the SBD-5, featured illuminated gun sights and flexibly mounted rear firing machine-guns. And it was this version that would be built the most with just under 2,500 being produced. A number of these would be supplied to the Fleet Air Arm during January 1945, designated Dauntless DB Mk 1, however they were never used by the Fleet Air Arm. Efforts now turned to the SBD-6, which would be the final production Dauntless, featuring a more powerful 1,350-hp Wright R-1820-66 engine and increased further the fuel capacity.

A re-modelling of the SBD-3 saw the A-24 Banshee appear, they were the same as the naval version of the SBD-3 but lacked an arrestor hook, and these began equipping the United States Army in the Summer of 1941. This variant came about due to the success of the Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber which was used to great effect by the Germans during the war in Europe in 1940 and the United States Army was vary aware of its lack of dive-bombers so an order was placed for 168 aircraft.

By the end of the Second World War (1939 - 1945) 5,936 SBDs had been produced and perhaps its finest hour was during the Battle of Midway when dive bombing attacks either fatally damaged or sank the four Japanese aircraft carriers involved in the battle.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
SBD-1 253 mph 1,345 miles 27,100 ft two 0.50-in machine-guns
one 0.30-in machine-gun
1,200lb bombs
SBD-2 252 mph 1,225 miles 27,260 ft two 0.50-in machine-guns
one 0.30-in machine-gun
1,200lb bombs
SBD-3 250 mph 1,345 miles 27,100 ft two 0.50-in machine-guns
two 0.30-in machine-guns
1,200lb bombs
SBD-3 side profile image
SBD-4 245 mph 950 miles 26,000 ft two 0.50-in machine-guns
two 0.30-in machine-guns
2,250lb bombs
SBD-5 252 mph 1,115 miles 25,530 ft two 0.50-in machine guns
two 0.30-in machine guns
2,250lb bombs
SBD-6 262 mph 773 miles 25,200 ft two 0.50-in machine guns
two 0.30-in machine guns
1,600lb bombs
A-24 Banshee Designation given to SBDs used by the United States Army Air Force


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