Naval Aviation Museum resurrects Helldiver

Home News Naval Aviation Museum resurrects Helldiver

Brianna Edler-The Corsair

1944 Bomber resurrected from the dead in California on August 20th, and will be displayed at the Pensacola Naval Museum.
A WWII Navy aircraft was raised from the waters of the Lower Otay Reservoir near Chula Vista California. The SB2C-4 Helldiver was disassembled after being recovered, sent across the country to N.A.S. to be restored, and will later be displayed at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. The dive-bomber arrived at the Naval Museum on Thursday, August 26.
Now that the Helldiver has found it’s new home, the plane will be restored as much as possible. “The restoration process is lengthy. We start by disassembling the plane, reusing, and cleaning all the parts inside that can be reused. With the parts that are damaged, we rebuild them ourselves here at the museum. The restoration process may take anywhere from 3-5 years,” said Captain Ed Ellis, JAGC, U.S.N. (Ret.).
Once restored, the plane will be added to the museum’s collection for public display. “The Museum Foundation will invite the family of the pilot to the opening ceremony, where they will induct the plane into the museum,” said Ellis.
With all the planes the museum has recovered and restored, it is incredible how much of each plane is actually genuine. Ellis said, “We replace no more than fifty percent of the aircraft, otherwise it would be considered a replica. The museum only has one replica, and that is the Triad which is the first aircraft inducted into the Navy in 1911.” This plane can be seen as soon as you walk inside the museum.
With any recovery you will really never know what to expect. What will be inside, what will be in horrible condition, or if the aircraft is on any pipelines that can damage the ecosystem. Captain Ellis said he was surprised, “all the instruments were in good condition. The canopy was not damaged, with the exception of one broken window pane. Though the engine was not in good condition and will need to be replaced along with the four-bladed propeller, the plane had very good structure.”
This aircraft is one of only six known examples of the SB2C Helldiver in existence out of more than 5,100 built. “Out of the six known in existence, we are very glad to have one at our Museum,” said Ellis. This plane will fill the hole left by the museum’s former Helldiver, which had been on loan from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for several years.
Curtis Corporation, later Curtis-Wright Corporation, designed the aircraft, inducted into the Navy’s inventory on July 25th 1944. This dive-bomber was delivered to San Diego a short time later and assigned to Bombing Squadron (VB) 84. Later, early 1945, the Helldiver was reassigned to Bombing Squadron (VB) 14. “It was called “The Beast” for it’s huge tail and not being easy to fly,” said Ellis. The model SB2-C was plagued with problems from the start, the first prototype crashed in February of 1941. The second went down as well, when it was pulling up from a dive. After an engine failure during a training exercise, both crew members: Pilot E.D. Frazar and gunner Army Tech Sergeant Joseph Metz escaped the wreck and swam to shore, leaving the Helldiver which sank into the 90 feet of water of the Otay Reservoir.
The wreckage was mostly forgotten until a fisherman spotted it in February on his electronic fish finder.
More than 65 years after the plane encountered the engine failure and plunged into the water, it has now been pulled from the reservoir. Captain Ellis said, “The process to pull any aircraft from state water takes time. The permit process, from any state, can take anywhere from a month to a year. The permit process for recover of the Helldiver took about 3 to 6 months. After the permit process was taken care of, we needed to go to the Historic Preservation Office and make sure we can actually recover the aircraft. Once all of that is completed we needed to make sure there would be no environmental troubles.” This recovery was sponsored by the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and led by the National Naval Aviation Museum.