Recreating the Wright R-1820 “Cyclone” (1)

The engine is the heart of every powered aircraft. In the case of the SBD it was the Wright R-1820 “Cyclone 9” (the “G“ model). In fact, this engine was one of the “workhorses” of the 1930s: designed in 1931, it was used in many aircraft, especially in the legendary DC-3. “Cyclone” was a reliable, fuel-saving unit for the Navy basic scout type. (Remember that the “Dauntless” was not only the bomber: it was also a scout airplane). In general, the R-1820 is a classic nine-cylinder, single-row radial engine (Figure 83‑1):

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Figure 83-1 The Wright R-1820 “Cyclone”, mounted on the SBD-5 airframe

The R-1820 G had been produced for over two decades, not only by the Curtiss-Wright, but also (under license) by Lycoming, Pratt & Whitney Canada, and Studebaker Corporation. Thus various less important details of this engine “evolved” during this period. In this post I would like to highlight some of these differences. I will focus on the forward part of this engine, because at this moment I am going to create a simpler model of the “Cyclone”, intended for the general, “outdoor” scenes. Inside the closed NACA cowling, you can see only its forward part. (Thanks to the air deflectors, placed between the cylinders – see Figure 83‑1). In such an arrangement, the visible elements are: the front section of the crankcase, cylinders, ignition harness, and the variable-pitch propeller governor. While the front section of the R-1820 crankcase remained practically unchanged in all versions, and the governor depends on the propeller model, I could focus on the cylinders and their ignition harness.

Identification of the version differences is the basic step, because otherwise you can build a model of non-existing object that incorporates features from different engine variants.

Continue reading Recreating the Wright R-1820 “Cyclone” (1)

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Creating the Tail Wheel

The Dauntless had fixed tail wheel of a typical design among the carrier-based aircraft. The tail wheel assembly consisted a fork connected to two solid-made beams, which movement was countered by a shock strut. The beams and the shock strut were attached to the last bulkhead of the fuselage (Figure 82‑1):

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Figure 82-1 Tail wheel assembly

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Rigging the Main Landing Gear

In previous post I discussed how the SBD landing gear retracts into its wing recess:

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Figure 81-1 Landing gear retraction in the SBD Dauntless

In principle, it is simple: the landing gear leg rotates by 90⁰. However, the parts responsible for shock strut shortening during this movement increase mechanical complexity of this assembly. The figure above does not even show the deformations of the brake cable, which follows the shock strut piston movements.

For some scenes I will need the landing gear extended, while for the others – retracted. In practice, moving/rotating each part individually to “pose” my model would be a quite time-consuming task. That’s why I created a kind of “virtual mechanism”, which allows me to retract/extend the landing gear with a single mouse movement.  In the previous post I already presented its results in this short video sequence. In this post I will shortly describe how I did it.

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Details of the Main Landing Gear

The SBD shock absorbers had to disperse a lot of the kinetic energy of landing aircraft, minimizing the chance that the airplane accidentally “bounce” back into the air. (This is a key requirement for the carrier-based planes). For such a characteristics you need a relatively long working span between the free (i.e. unloaded) and the completely compressed (i.e. under max. load) strut piston positions. Indeed, you can observe that the Dauntless landing gear legs are much longer in the flight than in their static position on the ground (Figure 80‑1):

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Figure 80-1 The fully extended shock strut

The working span of the SBD shock strut piston was about 10” long, while the difference between the static and the free (extended) piston positions was about 7.5”.

Continue reading Details of the Main Landing Gear

Forming the Main Landing Gear

I published my previous post a month ago, but the current stage of this project – detailing – requires less frequent reports. (Otherwise the posts would become rather monotonous: week after week they would describe making similar things, using the same methods). I started this last phase of the Dauntless project by recreating its main landing gear. First, I had to finish it, then I am able to write about this process. Thus I will describe it in this and next two posts. (I will publish them in a short sequence, week after week).

The retractable main landing gear of the SBD was probably a direct descendant of an experimental solution used in the Northrop 3A fighter prototype. In general, it looks quite simple:

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Figure 79-1 Main landing gear of a restored SBD-3

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Creating Textures: Tri-Color Navy Camouflage

In my previous post I finished the case of so-called “two-color” U.S. Navy camouflage, which was used between September 1941 and January 1943. You can observe on the archival photos that its non-specular Sea Gray / Light Gray combination was especially prone to weathering, and accumulated every grain of the soot and drop of the oil stains. Simultaneously the weathered Sea Gray paint became more and more white.

The new, “tri-color” camouflage, introduced in January 1943, fixed these flaws, and provided better protection on the vast, dark waters of the Pacific. You can see an example of this pattern on an SBD-5 from VB-16 (Figure 78‑1):

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Figure 78-1 Archival color photo of an SBD-5 from VB-16 (April 1944)

However, this historical photo has a technical flaw: its colors are “shifted toward blue”. You can unmistakably see this “shift” in the color of the bottom surface (it was Intermediate White). I was not able to correct this deviation, finding acceptable. Below you can see another photo of a SBD-5 from VSMB-231, which colors are more balanced (Figure 78‑2):

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Figure 78-2 Archival color photo of an SBD-5 from VSMB-231

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Creating Textures: Markings

The last texture for my model contains various elements that in the plastic kits are delivered as the decals: national insignia, radio-call numbers and various service labels. I prepared it as another vector drawing in Inkscape:

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Figure 77-1 “Decals” texture for the SBD-3 model (the reference drawing is visible in the background)

I exported this picture to a raster file named color-decals.png. It has transparent background, because I will combined this image with the other components of the color texture, prepared in previous posts.

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Creating Textures: Aircraft Skin Abrasions

It seems that Douglas used a high-quality paint for their SBDs, because I cannot find any trace of chips/flakes, even on such a worn-out aircraft as this from VSMB-241 (Figure 76‑1). However, you can see some scratches on the center wing, trodden by the crew:

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Figure 76-1 Scratches on the center wing (SBD-3 from VSMB-241, Midway, mid-November 1942)

In the photo above, the minor scratches are yellow, because Douglas used a yellow layer of Zinc Chromate primer below the camouflage paint. (The interiors were painted with another layer of the Zinc Chromate, mixed with Lamp Black to obtain a darker, greenish hue).

However, the larger area along the leading edge was often trodden to the bare metal, which you can see in the photo. This scratch has a typical, irregular band of the primer around its borders. In this post I will recreate these abrasions.

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Creating Textures: Color Map (2) – Weathering

In this post I will work on the weathering effects of the color texture, while in the next one I will add scratches and some other remaining details.

The weathering effects that you can observe on the aircraft from WWII era are quite “dramatic”. The paints used in mid-20th century were not as chemically “stable” as the contemporary coats, thus they could change their hues in few months of intense service. The archival color photos below show an extreme case of this effect (Figure 75‑1):

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Figure 75-1 Examples of heavy weathered aircraft

These photos were taken by Frank Sherschel on 14th November 1942, for the “Life” magazine. The SBD-3s depicted on the pictures belonged to VMSB-241 squadron, stationed at Midway in that time. Marines received these aircraft in July 1942, but all of them were already used before – most probably on the U.S. Navy carriers. I think that in November 1942 these SBDs had accumulated about 10-11 months of the war service. I will use them as an extreme case of the weathering. (It is always good idea to recreate such an ultimate case in the texture, because you can always make your model “newer” by decreasing intensities of the weathering layers. On the other hand, you cannot use more than the 100% of their intensities, thus you cannot make your model “older” than you initially painted).

Continue reading Creating Textures: Color Map (2) – Weathering

Creating Textures: Color (Diffuse) Map (1)

The color (also known as “diffuse”) map is the most obvious texture, which you can find on every model for games. In my models it is composed of three separate images: the camouflage, the dirt (stains, soot, etc.), and the markings (national insignia, tactical numbers, warning labels, and all other similar stuff). In this post I will compose the basic camouflage texture.

Some time ago I unwrapped the left side of this model (see this post, Figure 62-3). Now I had to complete this work, creating remaining elements of the right side, and unwrapping them on the UVMap layout. The final result looks like the model in Figure 74‑1:

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Figure 74-1 The right side of the model, mapped on the UVMap layout

For the precise mapping, I used here the color grid image, which I already used in my previous posts. Note the different square colors on the left and right wing, as well as the different letters on the right and the left tailplane.

Continue reading Creating Textures: Color (Diffuse) Map (1)