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SBD Dauntless (from scratch)

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This time just about some minor details:

After “mounting” the R-1820 engines into my SBD models, I decided to recreate some details of the inner cowling (the cowling panels placed behind the cylinder row). In this post I will form the missing parts of the carburetor air ducts, hidden under the NACA ring. There are significant differences in this area between various SBD versions, which never appeared in any scale plans, or in any popular monograph of this aircraft. I think that the pictures presented below highlight these differences. They can be useful for all those scale modelers who are going to build the SBD “Dauntless” models with the engine cowlings opened. (Sometimes you can encounter such advanced pieces of work on the various scale model contests).

Let’s start with the SBD-5s (and -6s), which are better documented (because they were produced in much larger quantities). They had a dual intake system, of the filtered/non-filtered air, which I discussed it in the previous post. I already recreated the two intakes of the filtered air, placed between the engine cylinders. Now I have to create the central, direct air duct and its opening at the top of the internal cowling.

Figure below shows the initial state of my SBD-5 model:


As you can see in Figure "b" and "c" above, initially the carburetor protruded from the simplified shape of the internal cowling. On this stage of work I was sure that the engine is at the proper location (I matched it against the reference photo in the previous post). Thus, I concluded that the shape of the internal cowling requires an update. To determine its real form, I reviewed the available photos. Unfortunately, I have only few pictures of this obscured area:


Figure "a" above shows an archival photo, taken at the Douglas factory. I can see there that edges of the cowling around the central air intake are shifted forward. Unfortunately, the closing, top element of this cowling is not attached here. I can see it in Figure "b", above, taken from the front (which makes it less usable). On this picture I noted that the edges of the air intake are elevated above the cowling (by less than inch). It was confirmed by the pictures of the restored SBD-5 from the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor (Figure "c", "d", below):


In Figure "c" above you can see the side contour of the inner cowling. I can see that the central area is shifted forward (marked in blue in Figure "b", above), and side segments around air filters are shifted back (marked in brown in Figure "b", above).

Figure "a" below shows these faces on the updated mesh of the inner cowling:


You can also see there the top of the air duct (this is a separate object). Figure "b", above, shows its simple, “box-like” mesh. When both elements were in place, I used a Boolean modifier to cut out the central opening in the cowling (Figure "c", above).

Let’s look at the corresponding area in the earlier SBD versions. Figure below shows the rear side of the SBD-3 engine cowling:


This case is quite different. It seems that the upper part of the inner cowling in the SBD-3 forms a “box” around the carburetor air duct. It was quite difficult to find any photo of this area taken from above (you know, in 99% cases the photographer stays below, on the ground). All what I have are the photos of the SBD-3 wreck, salvaged from Lake Michigan:


I learned from them that this “niche” had flanges around its edges, and the air duct stood inside it like a “statue”. (There was a lot of space around this duct). The designers even formed a kind of “pedestal” at the base of this “niche” (I marked it on the right photo).

Using all this information, I reproduced this “box”/“niche” in my SBD-3 model:


I started with a simple box, then I fitted it into the elliptical contour of the inner cowling. Finally I joined these two meshes, and rounded their edges using the Bevel (Weight) modifier. I also extruded the flange around its rear edge.

I also tried to determine the shape of the air duct. In this case the only available references were the photos of the SBD wrecks:


It seems that this part of the air duct had a “jug-like” shape. Its upper edges fitted the horizontal air duct mounted in the NACA cowling. (That’s why the forward edge of this intake is lowered a little – just as the bottom of the air duct in the NACA ring).

Figure below shows my attempt to recreate this part in the SBD-3 model:


I had some doubts about the forward edge of the upper cowling that overlaps the flange behind the air intake. Finally, I wrapped it around the topmost edge of the “niche” (see Figure "b", above). I also improved the shape of the “pedestal” in the inner cowling. (It covers the front section of the carburetor – see Figure "a", above). I assumed that the air intake looked like that in the SBD-2, -3 and -4, because they share the same air duct design.

I have not any reference materials about the internal air duct in the SBD-1. I assumed identical shape of the inner cowling as in the SBD-2, -3, and -4. Figure below shows other assumptions:


I assumed that the general shape of the internal, vertical air duct segment was as in the later versions. The only difference are the simpler upper edges, fitting the opening in the NACA cowling. (There was no “lower” part of the external air duct under the NACA cowling, which you can see in the SBD-2, -3 and -4).

In the next post I will add the last details to the inner cowling, finishing my work on the engine compartment.

You can download the model presented in this post from this source *.blend file. To reduce its size, it is stripped from the texture images. (During the last year the size of this source file has significantly increased, reaching 40 MB in the compressed form. More than 35MB of this amount is used by the texture images. Thus, I will preserve the texture images in the source file only when they are relevant to the topic of the post)

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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Thanks Witold. I’ve done similar to you in that regard. Bsurfaces doesn’t yield the best results and are difficult to work with.


i think I’m going to do my next project in Fusion 360. The graphics are much better for one thing. At least my old eyes can see what they are doing.


i never cease to be amazed at what you’ve done. Blender isn’t the easiest tool to use and you’ve gone beyond mastery at this point😁👍

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  • 1 month later...

Major Walt, thank you for following! 🙂


This winter I am busy with my daily business project, so you will see the further progress in this model in the spring 2019. However, I have just found a little unpublished tutorial that I made in November, so I decided to publish during this break:
This post is dedicated to a minor feature, which I have found surprisingly demanding: modeling the grooves pressed in the curved surfaces of the aircraft panels. In the SBD you can see some of such reinforcements on the inner cowling, behind the cylinder row:


They are 0.7-1.0” wide (Figure "a", above) and span over the inner cowling along its radial directions (Figure "b", "c", above). In the SBD-5 and -6 these reinforcing grooves occur only on the lower part of the cowling (Figure "b", above), while in the earlier versions (SBD-1, -2, -3, and -4) they are also present on the upper part (Figure "c", above).

Even when the flaps on the NACA cowling are closed, you can still see rounded endings of these grooves around the cowling rear edge:


In the earlier versions (SBD-1..SBD-4) they appear on the narrow strip behind the NACA cowling (Figure "a", above). You can see more of the upper grooves when the NACA cowling flaps are set wide open. In the SBD-5 and -6 the engine and the NACA cowling were shifted forward by 3.5”, and the gap between the NACA ring and the inner cowling is wider. Thus, in these versions you can see even longer fragments of the grooves behind the NACA cowling (Figure "b", above).

Such grooves appear on many sheet metal elements, so I decided to write this post as a small tutorial that teaches how to recreate these elements. Thus, do not be surprised when I list the detailed Blender commands in the text below.

Usually I would recreate such a feature using bump map. However, this is a special case: it may happen that in the future I will also recreate most of the inner details inside this NACA cowling (for a cutaway picture). This means that in the future I will have to render some close pictures of this area. That’s why I decided to model these groves in the mesh geometry. (It seemed that this addition did not require any substantial retopology, due to the radial direction of these groves. Their layout matched the general “spider web” mesh layout of this inner cowling).

There are two methods to reshape the mesh in Blender:

  • Classic, manual modification of the faces, edges and vertices;
  • Displace modifier, which uses a texture image (a kind of bump map) to shift (displace) the mesh faces along their normal directions;

The Displace modifier is a great tool for the cloth wrinkles and similar effects. However, for the relatively sharp edges as in these grooves, it would require an extremely dense mesh (subdivided 4 or 5 times). Because the Displace modifier required significant increase of the polygon count in my model, I decided to recreate this feature using the basic modeling techniques.

Figure below shows the initial stage of this work. For each groove I created an auxiliary “plate” (Figure "a", below) and adjusted their thickness and locations to the reference photo (Figure "b", below):


Each of these plates is a simple, four-vertex plane. Its thickness is created by the Solidify modifier, and the rounded edges – by a multi-segment Bevel modifier. As you can see in Figure "b", above, I set their locations and rotations, so each of their cross-sections with the cowling fits the edge of a groove visible on the reference photo. It occurs that the distances between the grooves are not uniform – as you can see, comparing the distances (1) and (2) in Figure "b", above. (Note that there is a panel seam within range (2) – I think that this is the reason of this additional “spacing”).

I also thought about the mesh topology. In the optimal case:

  1. each plate should cross only the perpendicular edges of the cowling panel. Eventual single radial edge along the middle of the plate is also acceptable;
  2. there should be at least single “radial” edge on the cowling panel between two subsequent plates;

To fulfill requirement 2, I had to make the initial mesh of the cowling panel denser (subdividing each face once, by applying the Subdivision Surface modifier). You can see the resulting mesh in Figure "a", above. I also marked there the potential “trouble area”, where the plate is crossed by the skew edges. It is always better to know such a thing in advance.

(Before applying the Subdivision Surface modifier, I also had to apply the original Bevel modifier, which rounded the gun throughs edges. Thus, at this moment this cowling object has just a Mirror modifier in its modifier stack).

In the next step I modified the cowling mesh, creating some space for the grooves:


I redirected the edges in the “trouble area” marked on the picture. I also rotated by a fraction of degree many of the other radial edges, so that they go straight in the middle of the plate, or run along its side, far enough for the rounded edges of the groove. It is hard to notice these results at first glance, but this is the key work which determines the quality of the final effect.

Once the mesh of the cowling was updated, I removed from the plates their Bevel modifiers and applied the Solid modifiers, converting their meshes to “boxes” of fixed width (0.7”). (The only purpose of the Bevel modifiers was to round the plate edges for comparison with the grooves on the reference photo).

Before I started “chiseling the grooves”, I added to this cowling panel a new Bevel (weight) modifier, and a Subdivision Surface (1) modifier. Figure below shows the current state of the modifier stack of this model part:


These two new modifiers will round the edges of the grooves. The size of the Bevel (0.2”) is appropriate for the width of these grooves (0.7”). Of course, in your case you have scale these dimensions proportionally for your groove width.

To cut out a groove contour, I joined (Object:Join, or [Ctrl]-[J]) the plate object with the cowling, and selected all of its six faces (Figure "a", below):


Then I invoked the Mesh:Faces:Intersect (Knife) command, obtaining the initial edges of the groove (Figure "b", above). The Intersect (Knife) command produces some overlapping vertices, which I quickly fixed, selecting all of them and invoking the Mesh:Vertices:Remove Doubles command. I also removed the “cutting box” (I do not need it anymore). In the last step I adjusted the ends of this “strip”. I created four additional vertices (two of them at each end), to add four additional edges (Figure "c", above). (I created these new vertices by selecting the corresponding edges and invoking the Mesh:Edge:Subdivide command). Finally I shifted the corner vertices of this strip inside, using Mesh:Vertices:Slide command ([Shift]-[V]).

Then I use the Mesh:Transform:Shrink/Fatten command ([Alt]-S) to move the central vertices of this groove down, each along its original normal direction:


This groove has width of 0.7”, so I shifted its vertices downward by 0.4” (I found this proportion optimal). Then I assigned the Bevel weights to round the edges of this groove. I set the weight = 1.0 to the central edge, and weight = 0.5 to the side edges (Figure "a", below):


Figure "b", above, shows the resulting surface.

I repeated this sequence of operations for each groove. When the intersection produced a contour without the central edge, I used the Mesh:Edges:Subdivide command to create a new one:


Figure below shows the finished grooves on the SBD-5 and SBD-3 cowlings:


(The SBD-1 uses the same inner cowling as the SBD-3).

After this work, I had to refresh the UV maps of the modified elements. Figure below shows my test render of the SBD-5 cowling:


As you can see, I removed the NACA cowling from this model, so that you can evaluate the ultimate result of my work.




Conclusion: as long as you can, use bump maps to recreate such grooves. Recreating this feature by pure modeling requires much more work (by an order of magnitude).



You can download the model presented in this post from this source *.blend file. To reduce its size, it is stripped from the texture images.

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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  • 3 months later...

A small off-topic note:
this winter I was busy with my daily business and took a break from the SBD model. However, in February and March I spent few Sundays helping in another project: recreating the Fokker D.V biplane, used in 1917 as an “advanced trainer” by German Air Corps:




My part was recreating the geometry of this aircraft, especially its fuselage frame made of steel tubes. All what we had was a dozen of various archival photos, a poor general drawing, and the landing gear dimensions. In this case I had to turn the available photos into the precise reference, as I did for the SBD, then use them to determine the required geometry details:



Doing it, I also made a "discovery" about wing geometry of this airplane. See details in this post.

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  • 3 months later...

Important update about this SBD project: thanks to C West help, I identified a microfilm roll set of the original Douglas documentation for the SBD/A-24. In June I ordered its copy from NASM and now I am waiting for these materials. When I got them, they will be scanned by a local service company which scans various museum archives. This is not cheap, because the only possibility is to scan all microfilm frames (and pay for each frame, of course - I estimate that this set of seven microfilm rolls contain about 5500-6000 frames). Then I will organize these scans for quick use as the reference materials.


In the meantime, I am going to update my P-40 model, also using original blueprints. I already bought their scans.


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  • 3 months later...
Finally (after 5 months) I received the Douglas SBD microfilms from NSAM (7 rolls).
I have already contacted a local service provider, who scans microfilms for museums. They promised me to scan them in the beginning of December.
(I have no any microfilm viewer, and do not want to spoil these films in a slide projector. At this moment I just checked that the title page of these microfilms says that this is the Douglas SBD/ A-24, and that it contains blueprint pictures).
I will keep you informed on the progress.
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  • 4 months later...

Major Walt - thank you! Below more on this subject:


In June 2019 I followed C. West suggestion and ordered a set of Douglas SBD original technical documentation from U.S. National Air and Space Museum. Technically these blueprints are stored on several microfilm rolls. In that time all what I knew about this package (NASM id: “Mcfilm-000000408”) was the information printed on the order form:


As you can see, this set has no index, which I could order earlier to examine its contents. When I finally received these microfilms in November 2019, I also discovered the meaning of enigmatic “(roll C” in the item description: it was truncated phrase “(roll C missing)”!

Well, this set was incomplete, but anyway I ordered its high-resolution scans from a local company that provides professional microfilm scanning services to museums. In January I received these data (4700 high-res, grayscale images in LZW-packed TIFF format – in total, about 300 GB). Finally I was able to scroll these blueprints. Frankly speaking, I was afraid that the most important drawings were lost with the missing roll C. Fortunately, during the initial review I noticed many detailed assembly blueprints among the scanned images. I even found a complete inboard profile of the SBD-5:


Here you can download the high-resolution version of this inboard profile (about 70MB).

The scanning company (Digital-Center, located near Poznan) did its job well, adapting the scanner resolution to the size of the depicted drawings. Scans of frames that contain large assemblies are usually 11 296 px wide and 7 874px high, which ensures that even the smallest references are readable. For example – see these four subsequent frames of the fuselage assembly drawing: 1, 2, 3, 4 (beware: size of each of these linked images is about 70MB).

There are even larger images in this result set: the biggest one is about 20 000px wide. The smaller drawings of various details are scanned at 7 672x5 682px.

Conclusions from the first review of this microfilm set are as follows:

  • Roll A: blueprints of various small elements. Many of them (various angles, straps, bolts, pins, etc.) are standard Douglas parts, shared between many aircraft types. (As the angle from Figure 107‑5 – it was traced in 1936, before the SBD appeared on the designer desks);
  • Roll B: blueprints of various SBD details - special bolts, pins, screws, various brackets, supports, forged parts, some minor assemblies (for example – arresting hook);
  • Roll C : missing
  • Roll D : assembly drawings
  • Roll E: more detailed assemblies, some larger details
  • Roll F: remaining elements (this is the shortest roll)
  • Roll XA, XB: updated drawings, published a few months later. Most of the drawings are duplicates of those depicted in rolls A-F, but can differ in minor details. However, some of these drawings are new – most probably they are updates of the drawings from the missing roll C;

These blueprints describe SBD-4 and SBD-5 (which is OK – the SBD-4 is similar to SBD-3, and SBD-2, while SBD-5 is nearly identical to SBD-6). It seems that rolls A-F were made from September to October 1943, while their updates – rolls XA, XB – in January 1944. Because of the missing roll C, this documentation is not complete. In general I could not find the fuselage ordinates (I only found the wing ordinates). My first impression is that the missing roll C contains most drawings of wing ribs and at least half of the fuselage bulkheads. Fortunately, there are drawings of the tail bulkheads and the firewall on the other rolls.

For my project I need to organize these blueprints into a tree-like structure, with the largest assemblies in the root (as described in this post). However, after this initial review I could not determine the rules of the drawing numbering system used by Douglas. (I wanted to use them for quick grouping all parts belonging to the same subassembly). It could happen that in this Douglas factory the drawing numbers were assigned sequentially, just as the subsequent blueprints were ordered! It also seems that some of these drawings use original Northrop numbers, dating from the SBD predecessor: the BT-1 dive bomber.

To organize this documentation I have to start from the general assembly drawing and then step down to its subassemblies. For this purpose I need an index of these blueprints. Recreating such a thing is a monotonous task that will take some time, but I cannot see better option to fully explore contents of these microfilms. What’s more, I think that once such a list is created, it can be also useful for the others. While NASM forbids publishing technical drawings from their microfilms by any means (except so-called “fair use”, which I am stretching a little in this article), I still can publish such an index. Of course, I will also donate its copy to NASM. I hope that in this way the eventual future buyers of these SBD/A-24 microfilms will benefit from my work.

First obstacle in creating such a drawing list is quite unusual: while most manufactures traced the digits of drawing numbers in ink, as the all remaining drawing lines, Douglas stamped them in the title block. The ink often spilled over the edges of the stamped digits, and now it is hard to read them from the microfilms photos. For example – look at the title block of this sample drawing:


When I altered the gray shades of this drawing, I was able to identify the first four digits (5063):


Fortunately, after this adjustment I discovered that they also stamped (most probably) the same number on the right margin. So here it is: 5063493. (You can also find a mirror image of this number on the right below: most probably it was stamped on the other side of this drawing). Of course, sometimes even these additional stamps on the margins are hardly readable: I frequently wondered whether a particular “splash” in place of a digit represents “4” or “1”. In other cases it was difficult to tell if there is a “3” or “8”, or “5”, or even “0”. Some help came from the observation that the numbers of these microfilm drawings are always in ascending sequence. Thus, if the unreadable digit in the drawing number “519456x” can be “3”, “5”, or “8”, but the previous drawing is “5194560”, and the next drawing is “5194565”, then this last digit must be “3” (giving drawing no: “5194563”).

Still there are cases in which I was unable to decipher the drawing number even after adjusting the grayscale, and there was a wide gap between the previous and the next drawing number:


The standard parts, like the one depicted in figure above, often occur in several variants (you could cut the depicted standard angle in a variety of lengths). In such a cases Douglas placed in the drawing an example of the full part number:


The prefix of this part number is the drawing number!

In case of unreadable dedicated part/assembly drawing numbers, Ester A. from AirCorps Library suggested the “last resort”, indirect method. Usually the blueprint of a non-standard part contains a table named “NEXT ASSEMBLY” on the side of the main title block. It provides drawing numbers of the assemblies that use this part:


In the case from figure above this is a single assembly drawing: 3063922, which was used in the SBD-1, -2, and -3 models. Using this drawing number I found the corresponding blueprint:


Examining this assembly drawing, I found the sought detail and read its number. Of course, this method requires searchable list of the available drawing numbers, from which I would read that drawing 3063922 is in roll B, frame 1014. That’s why in the first step I needed to create the drawing index.


(continued in the next post...)

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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(continuation of previous post)


It took me about 100 hours of work, but here it is:

Click here to download the index (*.xlsx file, 303kB).

Frankly speaking, for my purposes I do not need the details from roll A, which took about 25% of the total work time. But I decided to index all the rolls, just to provide a complete list for eventual other users.

Below you can see how this list looks like:


For each microfilm frame I note in this table not only the drawing number, but also the name copied interim from the drawing title block. (I preserved in these texts original caps and the grammar errors – for example: “PILOTS CHAIR”). Eventual unreadable digits in drawing numbers are marked as “?”, and unreadable text fragments as “<…>”.

It seems that in Douglas numbering system drawing numbers of standard parts should have “S-“ prefixes. However, I found that these prefixes were often missing, or even manually written in drawings of certain parts that do not seem to be standard. Thus I decided to skip “S-“ prefixes in the numbers placed in this index, because they could be misleading and make the eventual searches more difficult. Instead I marked each drawing of a standard part in the Comments column, basing on the presence of the “STANDARD PART” statement in its title block.

When a single drawing spans over two or more subsequent microfilm frames, I described it in the index table in following way:


Each line in the table represents single microfilm frame, thus drawing 5196835 is described by two subsequent lines, which differ by the drawing frame number in the Partial frame column (1, 2). In the first of these lines I placed the roll id of this drawing (“E128”). I did this just in case, because I do not think that I will use these ids. I placed drawing description (title) in the line that corresponds to the frame containing its title block. In this way the table contents is more readable. (You can instantly recognize for each drawing where it starts and ends).

In this list you can use Excel filtering feature, searching for drawings that contain certain phrase. When you click the auto-filter button in the right corner of Description column, and search for “BONDING” phrase, you will get following result:


If you did this search because you wanted to find the drawing of the fuselage bonding, in the result set you will see the last line of drawing 5196835 (the one that contains the description from its title block). You can read the roll symbol and the frame number from Roll and Frame # columns (roll: E, frame: 193). From the Dwg frm column you will learn that this is frame 2/2, thus you will also know that previous frame (192) from roll E contains the first part of this drawing.

Finally, figure below shows one of the most complex examples of a multi-part assembly drawing:


A very long drawing 5094762 (E138) was originally traced in two parts (1/2, 2/2). Each of these parts spans over 3 frames and has its own title block, thus I placed their labels in the corresponding index lines. What’s more, this assembly is accompanied by additional BOM tables, depicted in the subsequent microfilm frames (6, 7, 8).

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  • 4 weeks later...

In general, the set of 7 SBD/A-24 reels from NASM contains 3308 unique microfilm frames, belonging to 3022 drawings. On reels “XA” and “XB” you can usually find updated copies of the previous reels (“A”, “B”,.. “F”). However, 350 frames from “XA” and “XB” are unique – most probably this is a part of the missing roll “C”. Duplicates from these “X*” reels are also useful, when a drawing from one of the previous reels is unreadable.


(continued in the next post - this site system went crazy and does not allow me for writing this post in one piece!)

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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(continuation of the previous post)


I chose about 1000 frames (mostly assembly drawings) from this microfilm set, and organized them into a tree-like structure as in figure below:


To preserve disk space, I placed in these folders shortcuts to files located in the original directories (These original directories correspond to microfilm reels: “A”, “B”, …, “XB”). I practiced that when I click such a link, it opens the image in Photo Viewer, as if it was the original file.

I think that Douglas did not use any sophistical drawing numeration (at least in this project). The SBD/A-24 drawing numbers seem to be assigned as they were ordered: for example, drawing numbers of subsequent wing bulkheads belong to number series that begins with: 206*, 209*, 212*, 406*, 409*, without any visible order. Maybe this is due the fact that part of these drawings came directly from the Northrop Co, without any renumbering? (You can still find “Northrop Aviation Division” name in the title blocks of some standard parts from this microfilm set).

The documentation from NASM microfilm is missing many important details – I suppose that they were on the lost reel “C”. For example, figure below shows the identified and missing wing bulkheads:


Fortunately, reel “E” contains also wing geometry master diagram (ordinals), so I can use it for recreating shapes of these missing elements.

Fuselage structure also misses many bulkheads:


However, there is no master diagram for the fuselage. I will have to recreate its shape basing on the few reference dimensions placed in the identified assembly drawings. I have also found some contours of these missing bulkheads, drawn as additional information in various installation drawings. However, these blueprints are not as precise as you think – due to barrel distortions of the photo lens and draughtsman mistakes, I estimate their tolerance to 2-3% of the overall size. Unfortunately, there are no data about the wing fillet shape, especially its outer edge.


(continued in the next post)

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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Several years ago I analyzed the SBD photos and concluded that SBD-5 (and -6) engines were mounted a few inches forward than in the previous Dauntless versions (SBD-1..-4). In this post I estimated this difference in length as 4 inches. Now I found the proof of this observation in the SBD-4 and SBD-5 engine mount dimensions (drawings 5055954 and 5159336):


The explicit dimension of SBD-4 engine mount (dwg no 5055954) specifies its length (distance from the firewall to the back faces of the engine mounting lugs) as 34.1875 (I switched original fractional dimensions to decimals). Similar dimension of the SBD-5 engine mount (dwg no 5159336) declares its length as 38.1875. Thus we have the 4” difference!

However, to determine the ultimate difference in the fuselage length (marked in the figure above with the question mark) I also have to determine the overall lengths of the elements in the front of the engine mount. Both versions (SBD-4 and SBD-5) used the same propeller (length: 21.75”). From the drawing of the SBD-5 NACA ring I can read the overall length of the entire engine cowling: 60.8125” (see figure above). Unfortunately, there is no such information in the SBD-4 drawings. I have to determine this dimension in an indirect way. Let’s try it. The blueprints show that the length of the NACA cowling was identical in all versions (31.5”), as well as the distance from the R-1820 cylinders plane to the front of the NACA ring (14.3125”). (The NACA ring was attached to the mounting points on the R-1820 cylinder heads. These points were placed on the engine cylinders plane). Thus the potential source of the eventual further fuselage length differences is the distance from the back faces of the engine mounting lugs to the cylinders plane. From the SBD-5 blueprint I can calculate that it was 8.3125”. This result is close to the dimension specified in the R-1820 installation drawing (8.24”):


However, this installation drawing describes the R-1820 G200 (also known as C9GC), which was used in the SBD-5 under military designation R-1820-60. (For more information on the Wright “Cyclone” engine variants see this post). The R-1820-52, used in the SBD-4 and earlier Dauntless versions, belonged to the earlier R-1820 G100 series (also known as C9GB). Crankcase of the G100 family significantly differs from the crankcase used in G200. This could also mean differences in the coaxial location of the engine mounting lugs.


The B dimension marked in this drawing is the piston bore. This is well-known parameter of this engine, specified in the manufacturer documentation as 6.125”. I can estimate the sought distance A by comparing it to known B. The A/B ratio that I measured in a high-resolution copy of this drawing is 1.286 (+/- 0.8%). This means that A = 7.875” (+/- 0.063”) – i.e. the same distance as in the R-1820 F. I assume this value for the R-1820-52as as the most probable distance from the mounting lugs to the cylinders plane.

Thus the overall difference in the SBD-5 and SBD-4 horizontal lengths comes from the difference in their engine mount lengths (4”) and the difference in the distance from the mounting lugs to the cylinders plane between the R-1820-60 and -52 engines (8.3125– 7.875) = 0.4375”. This result can be rounded to 4.44” (or expressed precisely as 4 and 7/16”). According Douglas general arrangement drawing, the overall length of the SBD-5 was 33’ 1/4” (396.25”). Thus the overall length of the SBD-4 could be 32’ 7 13/16” (391.81”).

What about the earlier Dauntless variants: SBD-1, -2 and -3s? The eventual difference in their lengths and the SBD-4 length comes from the different propellers. (They used “Hamilton Standard Constant Speed”, while the SBD-4 used newer “Hamilton Standard Hydromatic” propeller). In the NASM documentation I found a powerplant diagram (dwg no 5094793), which shows this older propeller variant and the contour of its spinner. Although the spinner shape a little bit different than in the archival photos, all other drawing elements seem quite precise. Using this picture I could make a more precise estimation of the few key dimensions:


In this blueprint (above) I identified vertical lines that mark the firewall and the engine mounting lugs planes, as well as the cylinders plane. I scaled the distance between firewall and engine mounting plane to the corresponding dimension (34.19”), then I read the B, C distances, and – just as additional check – the A distance. I received: B = 37.66”, C = 42.38”, A = 7.88” (which confirms the previous estimation: 7.875”). Thus the overall length of the SBD-1,-2, and -3 can be estimated as:

  1. when the spinner was mounted: 32’ 6.3” (+/- 0.3”);
  2. without the spinner (the case often observed in the archival photos): 32’ 1.5” (+/- 0.3”);

It is interesting that p. 2 agrees quite well with the SBD-1 and SBD-2 length (32’ 2”) listed in the BuAer performance data sheets from 30th November 1942 (an repeated in many other later publications).


The aircraft dimensions listed in these BuAer data sheets are rounded (up?) to full inches. For example: the wing span is listed as 41’ 7”, while the exact value in Douglas arrangement drawing is 41’ 6.25” (41’ 6 1/8”).


Similar (single) BuAer sheet from 6th August 1942 examined the SBD-3 and SBD-4. The horizontal length specified in this document (32’ 8”) agrees quite well with the length of the SBD-4. We can assume that in the sheet which examined both: the SBD-3 and SBD-4, BuAer engineers simply put the length of the latter (evidently they treated these two aircraft as a single variant).


Many publications cites SBD-3 length as 32’ 8”. This is wrong value, coming from overinterpretation of the BuAer data sheet from August 1942.


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On 5/2/2018 at 2:39 PM, Basman said:

This has nothing to do with modelling anymore, this is very top level art. I love it. Did you count the amount of time you spend on it so far?


What manufacturer makes the best SBD Dauntless plastic kit to date?

I believe I'd settle for that kit and build it the very best I could... and be very happy with

the results! I don't think time matters... going-on 5 years next month.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 4/21/2020 at 7:06 AM, The Underdog said:


What manufacturer makes the best SBD Dauntless plastic kit to date?

I believe I'd settle for that kit and build it the very best I could... and be very happy with

the results! I don't think time matters... going-on 5 years next month.


Well, I am not making plastic kits, so I cannot answer directly your question. However, if they are based on the  modelers' drawings that were published so far, then all contain minor or major errors. At this moment I am using the original documentation to identify errors that I made in my own 3D model. You will see below, that there are many of them, in spite of my previous five-year research! I am afraid that the plastic kits are no better. During nearest weeks I will post here some tips about this issue - then you can decide, which manufacturer builds the model that is the most close to the original...

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I am preparing data from the original Douglas blueprints to verify my model. For the beginning I chosen the wing. This is a well-documented assembly, because I found a master diagram in the NASM microfilm that describes SBD wing geometry (ordinals). Below you can see the first sheet of this diagram (dwg no 5090185):


Here you can download its high-resolution version (5MB). As you can see, it contains the ordinal tables of the wing bulkheads (ribs) and webs (spars). In the sketch on its right side Douglas engineers depicted various other dimensions of the wing center section. In the picture above I marked in red its key wing stations. Their names correspond to spanwise distance in inches from the aircraft centerline: “STA 10” is 10” from the centerline, while “STA 66” is 66” from the centerline.

Another part of this diagram contains a sketch of the larger, outboard wing section:


Here you can download its high-resolution version (7MB).

Wing station names of the outboard section starts with “STA 66” and continue to the tip, which is named “STA 251.06”. This distance – 251.06” – is measured spanwise, along the reference planes of the outboard and center wing sections.

The first thing that I noticed comparing these blueprints to my model, are the different reference planes:


For my model I chosen the airfoil chord as the reference plane, with the origin point at the tip of the airfoil nose. (Airfoil coordinates are specified in such a reference system). The SBD wing was inclined at 2.5°, thus I rotated my wing object by the corresponding angle. However, from the photos I learned that SBD webs (spar) planes were vertical, so I adjusted their directions in my model. (If they were also inclined at 2.5°, connecting webs to the fuselage bulkheads would be much more complex, i.e. heavyweight).

In the original Douglas diagram shown above you can see that its engineers took different approach: they used re-calculated airfoil ordinals for given inclination angle. In this way their reference plane crosses the wing trailing edge and remains parallel to the fuselage centerline and perpendicular to the web planes. It seems that it was a standard approach in that era: I have found similar solution in the original Curtiss P-40 blueprints.

Building my model, I used simplified stations diagram from the SBD Maintenance Manual. From that diagram I knew that the wing tip station was at 251.06”. I also correctly assumed that the station distances are measured along the corresponding reference planes of the center and outboard wing sections.

In principle I was right, but I assumed wrong reference plane for the outboard wing! Below you can see the plane that I assumed for my model, and the real reference plane from the Douglas master diagram:


Usually designers choose reference planes along an easily distinguishable element, which you can use as the base for physical measurements. Their choice is extremely important for the technology used in the manufacturing (i.e. ultimate product cost), because these reference bases are reflected in the tooling geometry. In the case of the aircraft wing the most obvious candidate for such a base is the trailing edge. However, in this wing Douglas engineers chose a strange reference plane, which fits to nothing! Look at the fragment of Douglas master diagram above: every spanwise line of the wing is oblique: trailing edge, leading edge, upper wing contour (1° downward), lower wing contour… It does not even fit any spanwise contours of its webs (all of them are trapezoids). There was no chance to discover such a thing without this master diagram blueprint!


However, I knew that there is something wrong with the geometry of my wing. To obtain the dihedral angle specified in the SBD Maintenance Manual (in the front view: 7.5° along the wing upper contour) in my model I had to raise the outer wing section by 10.2°. For such an angle, I obtained wing span of 496.4”, which is 1.73” short of the documented value. I checked again station locations, to make sure that I did not made an error. I found nothing wrong, thus all what I could do was just to compensate this difference by additional 0.86” offset to each wing. (In picture above I marked it at station 66). Now it is clear, that this difference was caused by the wrong choice of the reference plane. In the master diagram this wing is already “pre-rotated”, and you have to raise it by only 8.5° to obtain the proper dihedral angle.


(continued in the next post)


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(continuation of the previous post)


I also made another error. Building the wing model I assumed that declared, 15% thick airfoil NACA2415 at station 66 (joint of the center and outboard wing section) was perpendicular to the reference plane of the outboard wing (i.e. to the wing airfoils chords plane – see figure above). In the effect, I obtained the oblique rib (10.2°), adjacent to the wing center section, as 15.24% thick. Now from the STA 66 ordinals of I learned that they used the 15% NACA2415 for the oblique rib, thus the real wing was somewhat thinner than in my model.

I recreated the ordinals from the master diagram as polygons in 3D space of my model. These are all five webs and some key ribs. You can see their arrangement in figure below:


In the picture above the ribs seem to be smooth, but look at the enlarged nose of STA 138: their vertices (ordinals) are connected with straight edges.

Note also see fragments of the master diagram image placed on the reference plane. To easily place rib polygons at their stations, I used single reference plane for both wing sections (i.e. the outer wing has no 8.5° dihedral). Thus at this moment the outer section is minimally raised above the reference plane, as it was according the ordinals. You can see this arrangement better in the picture below, taken from another viewpoint:


For the outer wing section I also recreated the ordinals of theoretical (i.e. in this arrangement - vertical) STA 66 contour. However, this is just a wire (a “theoretical entity”) – because the real rib at outer STA 66 was oblique.

Figure below shows the wing tip contour geometry specified in the master diagram:


The rear part of this contour (from point A to B) is shaped by an arc, which radius is 33.62”. The forward part (from B to C) is a free-form curve, described by a few key points, dimensioned in this drawing.


In this drawing you can see an auxiliary reference base, placed at 38.705” from the basic reference plane (located at STA 66 nose tip). This additional reference was introduced to facilitate dimensioning various wing tip details. The master diagram describes this line as “common percent line”, perpendicular to aircraft centerline. In trapezoidal part of the wing it connects points located at 33% of their airfoil chord lengths.


For initial verification of wing tip contour, I also placed over this fragment the assembly drawing of the wing tip. You can see the result below (lines from the master diagram are blue, from the assembly drawing – black):


In general, both contours match each other, within the tolerance of the manual sketching and eventual later deformations caused by microfilm camera lenses. However, the shape of aileron cutout significantly differs between these two drawings. What is interesting, photos of the restored SBDs confirm the variant depicted in the assembly drawing.


The width and height of the basic grid “square”, visible in this and further pictures in this post, correspond to 1 in.


In this assembly drawing I also identified additional rib (bulkhead) at STA 229.45. It did not occur on the stations diagram. However, the SBD wing tips were demountable, so its presence just at the joint seam is quite obvious. (The rib at STA 228 was its counterpart from the other side of this seam).

(continued in the next post)

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(continuation of the previous post)

I placed on this drawing the free-form curve key points, following the explicit dimensions specified in the master diagram, and connected them with a curve. I was surprised, discovering that the central part of this contour does not fit both drawings:


The difference between these contours is quite significant and reaches about 0.4” near the auxiliary reference plane. All what I could do in such a case was checking this detail in the available photos (especially the archival photos). Unfortunately, it is impossible to precisely compare this shape with the perspective images of real wings. That’s why I focused on the contour of the running light base. In the assembly drawing its forward part elevates a little above the win tip contour, while according the master diagram curve there would be no such elevation. I can say that you can observe such an elevation in most of the restored aircraft and in all of the archival photos. They confirm the wing tip shape depicted in the assembly blueprint.

The same applies to the small deviation from the master diagram contour at the aileron tip. It would be difficult to bend the end of the tip edge ring precisely around the master diagram “mathematical” arc contour, because of the sudden change in the curve radius at point B. (In that era aircraft designers cared only about the tangent continuity of their theoretical contours).

What’s more, the master diagram does not specify many other wing tip geometry details, for example – it misses the cross-section radius of the wing tip edge ring. To determine it, I had to use the detailed drawings of the wing tip webs. Ultimately I verified the wing tip shape using all available images of its parts:


I have found some further differences between the wing tip webs and ordinals of STA 246. (This is the last wing station, specified in the master diagram. Most of its shape is purely theoretical, because only its central part corresponds to a real partial rib).

I also found some other, less significant differences in the center wing section (for example – in the middle of STA 10).

Finally I concluded that the master diagram describes an initial concept of the wing shape, which was later (in the prototype workshop?) slightly modified, especially at the wing tip. Thus in all these cases I decided to rely on the assembly drawings.

Below you can see the complete “reference structure” which I prepared for the SBD wing:


Around the leading edge I placed a long, bent cone, which reflects its varying radius. Similarly, I signalized the radius of the trailing edge by marking it with two thin “tubes”. According the flap assembly drawing (dwg. no. 5066078) the outer radius of the flaps trailing edge cross-section was 5/32” (which means that they were about 0.3” thick). Aileron trailing edge was somewhat thinner: according the master diagram and assembly drawing the radius of its inner wedge was 0.09”. Because the SBD ordinals do not include the eventual skin thickness, I had to assume that sheet metal used as the overlay in the aileron structure was 0.05” thick. In the result I obtained the ultimate thickness of aileron trailing edge as 0.28” (2*0.09 + 2*0.05). I also added other details, as the landing gear wheel bay and aileron hinges axis (both dimensioned in the master diagram).

Before matching my model to this “3D reference frame”, I decided to check at least one of its overall dimensions – just in case. The most obvious candidate was the wing span, which I could read from the general arrangement drawing: 41’ 6⅛”:


Note that it was measured precisely between the tips of the curved wing contour: the widths of the running lights (1.5” for each side) were not included. (The width of these running lights was specified in the front view of this drawing). I also noted that the SBD maintenance manual specifies slightly different wing span: 41’ 6.3”. More precisely: according dwg 5120284 the distance from the center plane to the wing tip was 498.125”/2 = 249.063”, while the maintenance manual shows it as 249.187”. The difference: 0.124” on each side of the aircraft was minimal, but this wing was identical in all Dauntless versions. Which of these dimensions is wrong?

I made a quick calculation using the stations diagram: if the distance to the wing tip measured along the reference planes was 251.06”, then the half of the wing span is: 66 + (251.06-66)*cos(8.5°):


The result is 249.03”. However, the SBD ordinals describe “skeleton geometry” and did not take into account the skin thickness. Thus I have to add to this result the typical thickness of the wing skin: 0.03”. Finally it gives distance of 249.06”, which perfectly agrees with arrangement drawing 5120284.

Reassured by these calculations, I raised the object representing the outboard wing in my 3D “reference frame” by 8.5°, and measured the distance from its tip to the center plane. I was really surprised by the result:


Well, the reason for obtained dimension – 247.60”, instead of 249.03” – is simple: in my calculations I did not take into account the initial elevation of the wing tip over its reference plane:


In the result of the rotation by 8.5°, the wing tip is 1.43” closer to the aircraft center than STA 251.06, placed on the reference plane.


As you can see, the location of the of the SBD outboard wing reference plane is so unusual that even Douglas engineer, who provided dimensions for the arrangement drawing, made the same error as mine.


Thus the true wing span of the Douglas SBD was:

  • 41’ 3.2” between the wing tips (i.e. between bases of the running lights);
  • 41’ 6.2” between tips of the running lights;

Note that without the arrangement drawings you can easily make another error, and compare the wing span provided in the most of publications (41’ 7”) with the distance between the tips of the running lights. The result you will obtain in such a case will be quite close to the real value, because these two errors compensate each other.


Wing span from the SBD maintenance manual (41’ 6.37”) is also wrong. Was this slightly higher value (249.187” instead of 249.063” from dwg 5120284) obtained by adding the sheet metal thickness of the tip lights bases?


On the other hand, in the practice the precise overall wing span was seldom or never used. During production, the most important thing was the proper fitting of the wing segments at STA 66, and compliance of the basic assemblies to their own overall dimensions. To fit an aircraft in a hangar, you always have to provide an additional space of at least few inches on each side. During the operational use of these SBDs, board crews probably did not even notice that they occupied minimally less space than specified. For the long-term stowage or the transport the outboard wing sections were detached, and in this case the overall aircraft dimensions precisely matched the documentation. It seems that the aircraft length and span are most useful for the modelers, who use them for checking their scale plans or model kits.

However, this is one of the most unexpected errors that I encountered so far. Previously I have identified significant wing span mistake in the case of the Fokker D.V drawings from 1916, but I thought that such a thing could only happen in the era of the sketches made with chalk on the workshop floor. I would never expect such a mistake in a dimension from the original blueprints made in 1940!

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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  • 3 weeks later...

In this posts I will analyze differences between my 3D model (built from 2015 to 2019, as reported in this thread) and the SBD geometry data obtained from the original documentation. Actually, I can perform such a ultimate comparison for the wing, because I found its original geometry diagram in the NASM microfilm. In previous post I used it for preparing a “reference frame” for such a verification. Results of this comparison will allow me to determine the real error range of my previous methods described in this blog, in particular – the photo-matching method.


Unfortunately, the incomplete microfilm set from NASM does not contain any other geometry diagram, so I will not be able to prepare such a precise reference frame for the SBD fuselage or empennage.


At the beginning, I identified an error in the wing location. It was determined by the position of leading edge tip of STA 66, marked as point A in the picture below:


In this post from 2015 I determined this location using the general arrangement diagram that I found in the SBD maintenance manual. As you can see above, there were issues in deciphering some of its dimensions. One of them was the distance from the thrust line to point A. I identified it as 20.38”, which means that in my model this distance from the fuselage ref line is 26.38” (6” + 20.38”).

A high-resolution scan of another arrangement diagram from Douglas microfilm (dwg no. 5120284) shows that this distance was 26.52”. (You can see this dimension in the picture above). Thus – this is the first identified error in my model, caused by a mistake in reading available drawings: 0.12”.

After re-adjusting wing position in my model, let’s examine the center wing section:


In previous post I already mentioned my wrong assumption about the 15% thickness of the outer wing section at STA 66 (i.e. at the section joints – see Figure 109-4 in that post). Now I can see the effects of this error: upper wing surface of my model is located about 0.35” above the red reference rib (i.e. above the rib created according the master diagram ordinals). As you can see, I also made minor mistakes in the leading edge shape. There is an offset of 0.15” in the top view contour, and a difference in the shape of the forward part of the wing root profile. The latter does not exceed 0.3”. Because of these differences, you can see that the original wheel bay protrudes a little from the wing leading edge of my model. In general, wing webs (spars) locations are quite precise – just the Web #2 is shifted by 0.3”.

Let’s look now at the bottom side of this wing section. Surprisingly, the Web #5 location and the radius of the trailing edge precisely match the master diagram data. However, the lower wing surface is placed 0.05” above the wing ordinates (this is a minimal difference, but still visible in this model):


I also properly identified location of the Web #1. In my model I placed the most forward (“nose”) web in a slightly different location – about 0.15” to the rear. I made the biggest error in the shape of the lower, forward part of the wing root profile: it reaches about 0.5” near the leading edge. (As I remember, I assumed this airfoil shape basing partially on fitting the main wheel, and partially on the photos). The wheel bay location and size are surprisingly close to the master diagram data: the overall error does not exceed 0.15”.

In general, the center wing section of my model matches quite well the master diagram ordinals. Of course, I will fix all these differences, but I will do it later (I describe it in another post).

Now - what about the shape of the outer wing section? I found there much greater differences:


While the aileron and flap seem to match the master diagram pretty well, there is a significant difference at the wing tip. Also, the fixed slats are shifted outward by about 1”. However, we are comparing here my original wing model (dihedral angle along trailing edge: 10.2°) with the master diagram drawing placed on the original reference plane (dihedral angle: 8.5°). In Figure 109-15 from previous post I demonstrated that the real wing tip was 1.43” closer to the aircraft center plane than the tip depicted in this reference image. (This is because of the strange location of the reference plane in the outward wing). To fully assess these differences, I switched the current view to the projection aligned to the original, oblique reference plane of the outward wing:


Here we can see that the wingtip of my model exceeds the master diagram shape by 2”! On the other side, this is the result of two coupled errors. As you can see in this post and this post, I used the arrangement diagram from SBD maintenance manual as the primary source of the basic geometry.

In this diagram the basic trapezoid of the outer wing is described by five dimensions. I could not know that three of them are wrong! In the picture below I placed these dimensions in blue and red boxes (the wrong values are in red boxes):


In practice, this means that I unconsciously “stretched” the outer wing in my model, matching the wrong wing span. (For example – I shifted entire outboard wing section outside STA 66 by 0.8”. Such a modification did not agree with the stations diagram from the maintenance manual, but it was the only way to place the wing tip according the dimension from this arrangement drawing).


By the way: now I can see another error in the drawing above. Note the partial span dimensions, which I marked as L1 (66) and L2 (183.05). As you can see, their sum should give the L dimension (249.187). Does it? Certainly not! (66+183.05 = 249.05). While L1 is the location of STA 66, confirmed by many reference dimensions on various blueprints, L2 value fits to nothing. This could be the span of the outboard wing measured along the reference plane (185.05 – the third digit in the picture above can be both: 3 or 5). If this assumption is true, such a dimension should never appear in this top view, in particular in this closed dimension chain.


As I mentioned in at the beginning of this post, in this comparison I would like to determine the error range of my photo-matching method. It bases on the relative comparison: to determine absolute dimensions of the analyzed object, you previously must know at least one or two of its original dimensions. As you can suppose, I treated the wrong basic trapezoid of the outer wing from the arrangement diagram as the confirmed contour, and appropriately arranged the reference photos. You can see the results in this post about verification of the wing shape.

To estimate the error range related to the photo-matching method alone, I compensated the effect of the assumption errors (improper wing span) by adjusting my model dimensions. I scaled spanwise the outboard wing, decreasing its size by about 1%. After this update, the basic wing trapezoid of my model fits the real “reference frame”. Below you can see the result of a new comparison:


There is still difference in the wingtip contour, but now it does not exceed 1”. What’s more – now the wing slats match the blueprint quite well (the error does not exceed 0.12”). There is still a difference of 0.8” in the location of the gap between the flap and the aileron. However, I placed this gap in my model according the stations diagram from the maintenance manual, so it is shifted now. (I remember that I always noticed small difference in location of this gap when I matched my model to the photos).

You can see the originally matched photos in this post about wing shape verification. In particular, look there at Figure 31-8 and my description below that picture – it looks that initially I made a proper assumption about the contour arc, just its radius was somewhat different! A few months later I made another verification, described in this post (in particular, see Figure 42-8). Now I think that some problems with matching the wing tips of my model and the photo (as in Figure 42-9 in that post) were caused not by the dynamic wing deformation, but by assuming wrong basic dimensions.


CONCLUSION: it seems that despite the few available photos of the wing the errors of my photo-matching method did not exceed 1” (0.4%) in this SBD model. I think that this is an acceptable result, especially in the cases of aircraft which original blueprints are not available.


(Last year I wrote a detailed two-part tutorial on the photo-matching method: here you will find its part 1/2 and part 2/2).

However, in my SBD model these photo-matching errors coupled with other errors, caused by assuming wrong overall wing dimensions. I read them from the only available documentation, which I had in that time: the general arrangement drawing from the SBD maintenance manual. I think that such a situation is a special case. I will still trust the dimensions from manufacturer’s blueprints. This is the ultimate source, and – despite issues like the one described in this post – they build the real aircraft using these drawings! Of course, if you find two different blueprints of the same assembly, it is a good idea to compare a couple of their key dimensions. Just in case.



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salomon, these visualizations are superb!

They look like real photos! (All these blurs around engine nozzles, and so on...)

What modeler/render engine do you use. Did you make some of these final effect in the postprocessing phase?

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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In some aircraft it is difficult to provide the precise value of overall length. One of them is the SBD Dauntless, because of its easily demountable spinner used in the first three variants (SBD-1…-3). Also the length of the Hamilton Standard Hydromatic spinner hub, used in the later SBD variants, can vary – especially in the restored aircraft. Thus, for verification of model kits or similar purposes I would suggest checking the distance between two easily distinguishable points: from the firewall to the tip of the tail cone. This dimension remains the same in all SBD variants. Preparing the fuselage blueprints for my model, I could determine this distance using the tail cone assembly drawing:


The key information is provided by the stations marked in this drawing: their names describe distances from the firewall. (You can read them yourself from the high-resolution version of this drawing). I could read that the fuselage tip cone starts at station 271.6875 (11/16) and ends after station 308. However, this drawing does not provide the closing dimension (from station 308 to the tip), thus I had to measure this distance. Assuming a quite wide tolerance (1%), I estimated it as 6.7”. This means that the distance from the firewall to this fuselage tip was about 114.7” (+/- 0.05”). The light bulb protruding from the tip is not documented in this drawing. From the photos I could estimate its length as 1”. However, the information provided in this blueprint forced me to follow the “Douglas convention” of skipping the light bulbs dimensions. I already noticed this convention in the case of the SBD wing span: it was distance between the bases of the running lights, located on the opposite wing tips.

Later I discovered that I could verify this estimated distance using certain dimensions from the general arrangement drawing (dwg no 5120284):


I marked these three partial dimensions in the figure above. I subtracted from the total length (399.25”) the distance from the spinner tip to the wing leading edge (at STA 66: 91.56”), then added the distance from this point to the firewall (9”). I was surprised when I obtained a quite different result: 316.69”. This is 2” more than I measured in the previous blueprint – I could not explain such a significant difference!

However, looking at this arrangement drawing, I found another dimensioning chain:


First two dimensions (9” + 274.812”) describe position of the rudder hinge axis, while the third dimension describes distance from this axis to the rudder tip (29.875”). (This rudder chord length is confirmed by corresponding dimension in its assembly drawing no 5156459). Obtained result: 313.688” is 1” short of my measurement, but it does not include the small part of the fuselage tip behind the rudder:


Fortunately, another source confirmed this result: the arrangement diagram from the SBD-6 maintenance manual:


Although the aircraft total length here is slightly different from dwg 5120284 (33’ 0.1” vs 33’ 0.25”), all three dimensions related to the rudder size and location are identical. (Just their fractional parts are expressed using decimals). This arrangement drawing is more detailed: at the tail tip you can see 1” dimension related to the remaining distance from the rudder tip to the running light base. Thus, the distance from the firewall to the running light base at the tail tip (314.687”) agrees with my initial measurement (314.7”).

Comparing these two versions of the arrangement diagram I found some other simplifications in dwg 5120284. It seems that it was drawn by a draftsman who skipped many detailed dimensions, and truncated the less important fractional parts from the remaining ones:


Fortunately, the main dimensions like the overall span of the stabilizer are identical in both drawings.


Frankly speaking, after finding these errors I decided that I cannot trust dimensions from drawing 5120284, if they are not confirmed in other blueprints. This conclusion seems to be quite paranoid, but it looks that somebody in Douglas accepted this blueprint without proper verification.


Ultimately, for the SBD scale plans and model kits I propose following length checks:


Both distances are identical in all Dauntless versions.

I do not suggest checking the overall wing span, because the value used in all general drawings (including the manufacturer arrangement diagram): 41’ 6.37” is wrong due to conceptual mistake. (I described this error at the end of in this post). The real SBD wing span was 41’ 3.2”, but I doubt that any drawing/model kit fits this dimension. Thus I suggest measurement of two other spans, which are confirmed in all assembly blueprints:


I suppose that you can trust more the model kit/scale plan that fits these four dimensions. The other distances can vary, due to wrong wing span, provided by Douglas itself, or the wrong fuselage length specified in the BuAer SBD-1, SBD-2 and SBD-3/-4 performance reports. (These lengths were repeated in all publications about his aircraft. In the result – for the SBD-3 both: the length and the span were wrong in all sources that I saw. See this and this post for more details).

Edited by Witold Jaworski
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16 minutes ago, Witold Jaworski said:

salomon, these visualizations are superb!

They look like real photos! (All these blurs around engine nozzles, and so on...)

What modeler/render engine do you use. Did you make some of these final effect in the postprocessing phase?

Hi, I use Lightwave for years ang it was the best modeler I found and the workflow is very well done and quid, but I twist to Blender and Maya showly today. Those pics are made withwave 2015, a little heat effect with After effect, so much time rendering with a transparent deformation objet as I used before. It's the next coming Rafale F4 with the SATCOM connection.


Love your work, it's so amazing detail on it, so pity that I never can have enough time to make accurate details on my model, the work is alway rush.

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As I already mentioned in this post, my microfilm set does not contain the fuselage geometry diagram. (I suppose that it was included in the missing roll C). Thus, this part of my work will be much more difficult, because I even do not have complete set of the bulkhead drawings! Just found a structure assembly drawing (i.e. side and vertical views), skin panels assembly drawing, mid-fuselage bulkheads, and some bulkheads of the tail. In the picture below I marked these undocumented areas of the fuselage in transparent red:


Douglas blueprints refer to the fuselage bulkheads as “frames”. They are numbered from 1 (the firewall) to 17 (the mounting base for the tail wheel and horizontal stabilizer). Of course, the fuselage assembly drawings provide their positions, measured from the firewall. (You can find them in this assembly drawing of the skin panels). In this post I will refer to fuselage bulkheads using their ordinal numbers, shown in the picture above (for example: “frame #05”).

However, even the identified blueprints of the fuselage frames are usually assembly drawings, which means that they do not contain any useful dimensions (as the frame #05 in figure "a", below):

All you can do witch such a drawing is to use it as a reference image. This is not the best option, because these microfilm pictures are always slightly deformed, due to paper folds and distortion of the camera lens. In the case of detail drawings you can find some useful dimensions, like the overall fuselage width (measured from the center plane), or the height. (As in drawings of frame #07 in figures "b", "c", above). Note that these frames are split along the fuselage reference plane into the upper and lower part. While the upper part (figure "b", above) at least resembles a bulkhead, in the case of the lower part (figure "c", above) I had to think for a while before determining its inner and outer side.

Because I have only a few vertical photos of the fuselage, one of the most important information are bulkhead widths. I have collected them just for the 7 frames:


Except frame #03, these fuselage width are measured at the reference plane (longeron #06). In the case of the firewall, this is not the point of the maximum width. (Firewall has an elliptic shape, which origin lies 6” lower, on the propeller thrust line – see figure below). Note that I also found two widths of the cockpit frame. These two points, combined with the height from figure "b", above, allowed me to determine precise location of this very important longeron. (It forms a base for many other dimensions). Unfortunately, I did not find explicit width dimension for the last frame (#17).

I also verified the top view of the fuselage (the third illustration in this post), checking its symmetry. Unfortunately, I found that this contour is asymmetric (i.e. the drawing is deformed) in the area without dimensions (between frames #8 and #11). This deformation could occur during microfilm production. (This blueprint was originally split between four film frames, and frame 3 and 4 overlap in this area). However, these drawings were manually traced in ink, and this can also be a human (draftsman) error.

If you wonder about the error range of the lines traced on the original blueprints, look at the picture below. It shows two drawings of the firewall. One of them is in red, while the other in black:


As you can see, contours of these two firewall “instances” can vary even by 0.3” (0.4% of the overall size). Which one is closer to the real contour? I decided that I will use the red drawing, because it is symmetric, and its contour mostly agrees with the left side of the black blueprint. I suppose that at least part of these differences are non-critical draughtsman errors.


The most important elements of the technical drawings are their explicit dimensions. Depicted object has just to resemble the real thing, making the drawing readable. All curves are described by datapoints (ordinals), grouped in the geometry diagrams. That’s why for a manufacturer/workshop both of the compared firewall assembly drawings are valid, in spite of these differences.


Unfortunately, without the fuselage geometry diagram I have to rely on these “not-so-precise” object contours. This means that in my “3D reference frame” that I am building in Blender the possible error range will be much wider in the fuselage than in the wing. (Because the wing reference objects were mostly based on the original geometry diagram). In the second part of this post I will try to improve this situation a little, checking some doubtful/undocumented areas with the reference photos.

I placed the identified drawings of the fuselage frames in the 3D space, using some of their largest horizontal and vertical dimensions for determining the proper scaling. However, in the effect there were so many overlapping half-transparent pictures (as in figure "a", below) that in the practice the whole thing could not be used as a reference. It forced me to recreate each frame as a 3D planar contour, and hide their source drawings:


For the beginning, I focused on the better documented mid-fuselage. Once the bulkheads were created, I connected them with the cockpit frame and other longerons:


The longest longeron #06 lies on the fuselage reference plane, thus its shape from frame #05 to frame #17 determines the fuselage contour in the top view. For the convenience, these longerons run along the original longeron lines, depicted in the fuselage assembly drawing.

These longerons helped me to find and fix minor differences in the shape between subsequent bulkheads:


(When you look along the longeron at high angle, as in the picture above, you can quickly find all differences in the local width of the subsequent bulkheads.)


(Continued in the next post...)

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(Continuation of the previous post)

That was the easier part. Now I have to recreate the tail bulkheads. As you can see in the first illustration in this post, I found only the upper parts of frames #13..#16, and complete closing frame (#17). They contain just a few usable dimensions. Paraphrasing well-known Goya’s title, “the lack of dimensions produces assumptions”, and assumptions are the main source of eventual errors. However, there is no other way. In this case I have to make several assumptions about the shape of tail bulkheads.

Of course, first I reviewed all the blueprints for any hint about their shape. I have found some fragmented contours of tail bulkheads placed as additional information in other drawings. For example – figure below shows all what I found about frame #09:


The continuous red line marks the frame #09 contour, identified in two drawings. The left picture comes from cockpit enclosure assembly drawing, while the right picture is a fragment of an internal diaphragm assembly. The drawing of the cockpit enclosure (left) contains upper part of frame #09 contour. It looks as it was formed from an arc and straight segments (this is my first assumption). In the diaphragm assembly (right) you can see a complete frame #09 contour, up to the reference plane. It seems to be formed by a 3 arcs and a straight segment (this is my another assumption).


Design of this fuselage tail comes from the historical Northrop Gamma/A-17 aircraft line. First Gamma was built in 1932. In that time aircraft designers seldom incorporated advanced curves in their shapes, because they were much more difficult to recreate in the workshop than ordinary arcs. That’s why I stick to identifying circular sections in these contours.


I placed these two images in the 3D space, then created auxiliary circles fitting the assumed arcs. Using their contours, I created the model of frame #09:


As you can see, there is still a completely undocumented segment above the fuselage reference line. I based its shape on the corresponding segment in the last documented frame (#07).

I could identify similar arcs in the tail bulkheads. They fitted the available drawings of frame #13, #14, and #15. To ensure smooth shape transition between subsequent bulkhead contours, I organized these auxiliary circles into “cones”. Below you can see pictures of the first two cones, which form the main part of the tail:


For easier recognition, I marked the first documented tail frame (#13) in blue. Its width and height are determined by explicit dimensions, while the shape of previous frames is based mainly on assumptions. In picture above, left, you can see the upper cone. It starts with the frame #09 contour, which should fit the cockpit enclosure (arc diameter: 22.5”). Then it remains nearly constant up to the frame #13. (In fact, it seems to slightly enlarge its diameter, reaching maximum – 24” – at frame #13, then quickly decreasing in the further frames. For frames #16 and #17 this contour is meaningless, because their upper parts are completely hidden inside the horizontal stabilizer fairing).

In the picture above, right, you can see the central cone. Its axis lies on the fuselage reference axis, and its side contour is the side contour of the fuselage. I did not find any drawings of the lower part of frame #13. Basing on the side and top fuselage contours I decided that it was a simple circular segment, precisely matching the central cone. I assumed that the lower contours of all further frames (#14, #15, #16, and #17) were elliptical, because frame #17 seems to fit into an ellipse (as you can see in figure "a", below):


This frame had relatively large, tapered side walls (1” wide), thus I placed in this drawing two ellipses: one for the inner, and one for outer contour (both marked in the source blueprint). As you can see, these contours fit them pretty well. Note also that the upper part of this bulkhead is 2° oblique, to fit the attached rear stabilizer spar (web).

I also verified this elliptical contour in another drawing, of the first bulkhead in removable tail cone section (you can see it in Figure "b", above, marked in red). The last ellipse fits both blueprints. However, I noted differences between these drawings in the empennage fillet shape. (Compare its black and red contours in the marked areas of Figure "b", above).

In the next post I will continue my work over the lower part of the fuselage. I still have to prepare references for the large wing fillet, which spanned along half of the SBD fuselage length.

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