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):
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.
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):
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).
Because of the holiday break, during July and August I will report my progress every two weeks. I will return to weekly reporting in September.
I have just begun the third stage of this project: “painting” the model. At this moment I am unwrapping its meshes in the UV space . I will deliver you a full post about this process next Sunday. Today I will just signalize how it looks like.
So I started by creating a new reference picture. It had to have a rectangular shape. Inside I placed my drawings of the fuselage, wings, and the tailplane (Figure 60‑1):
In this post I describe a break in the modeling that I made this week, because I had to fix my reference photos before the further work. The reason for this fixing was simple: the NACA cowling of my model did fit only the long-lens photos. For the further work I needed more information. This information was available in the high-resolution photos made by the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor. However, they are slightly distorted.
In the ‘mathematically ideal perspective’ calculated for the computer cameras all of the straight lines remains straight. Unfortunately, the real-world camera lens can slightly deform (bend) the straight contours. This is so-called ‘barrel’ (or ‘cushion’) distortion of a photo. Unless you are using a panoramic lens, this deformation is hardly noticeable for the naked eye. Unfortunately, these differences become evident when you place a photo behind a 3D model, projected by a computer camera.
In case of reference photos that I used to verify my SBD Dauntless, the differences caused by the barrel distortion are visible around the forward part of the engine cowling (Figure 42‑1):
The horizontal tailplane has similar structure to the wing — but it is simpler. Thus I started it in the same way as the wing, by forming its root airfoil (Figure 32‑1):
In the most of the aircraft the tailplane has a symmetric airfoil. So it was in the Dauntless. I did not find its signature (family) in any of the reference materials, thus I carefully copied its contour from the photos (its rear part — the elevator — seems to have modified shape, anyway). It has incidence angle of 2⁰, so I rotated the rib object and used a Mirror modifier to generate its bottom part.
In the previous post I introduced a new method of using photos. I fit the projection of my 3D model into the contours of the same airplane depicted on a high-resolution photograph. I can use such an arrangement as a precise reference. It is a good idea to verify the basic body of the fuselage in this way, when there are no additional details. All the differences that I will find now will save me a lot of troubles in the future. For example — what if I would find that the base of the cockpit canopy in my model should be somewhat wider, when this canopy was ready? I would have to fix both shapes: the canopy and the fuselage. And what if I would already recreate the inner fuselage structure — the longerons and bulkheads — before such a finding? I would also have to fix them all. This is a general rule: the later modifications require much more work than the earlier ones! Thus I have to check everything when the model is relatively simple. You can compare the differences I will find in this post with the plans I published earlier: they contain various minor errors! Just as every drawing.
Last week (see Figures 29-5, 28-7, 29-8) I discovered that the bottom contour of the tail was somewhat lower than in my model (Figure 30‑1):
During the previous weeks I formed two main elements of my model: the wing and the main part of fuselage. As you saw, I could not resist myself for adding some details to the wing (like the ribs and spars of the flaps).
Now I think that this is a proper time to stop modeling for a moment and compare the shape of the newly modeled parts to the real airplane. If I find and fix an error in the fuselage shape now, it will save me from much more troubles in the future! If I find an error in the wing shape – well, I will have more work, because I already fit it with some details which will also require reworking… You will see.
The idea of using photos as a precise references emerged from the job that I did two years ago. One of my colleagues asked me if I can recreate the precise shape of the stencils painted on an airplane. He wanted to determine details of the numbers painted on the P-40s stationed in 1941 around Oahu. He sent me the photo. I started by fitting the 3D model to this historical picture, finding by trial-and-error the location and focus of the camera (as in Figure 29‑1):
Then I made the model surface completely transparent. I placed the opaque drawing (texture) of the large white tactical numbers on its fuselage, and the black, smaller, radio call numbers on the fin. I rendered the result over the underlying photo, finding all the differences. Then I adjusted the drawing and made another check. After several approximations I recreated precisely shapes and sizes of these “decals”.
To recapitulate my work on the Dauntless plans, I decided to draw all the external differences between its subsequent Navy versions. Because of the numerous changes that occurred in the SBD-5, I decided to split this description into two posts. This is the part one, the part two (about the SBD-5 and the SBD-6) will be ready in the next week.
NOTE: All airplanes on the drawings below are equipped with the small tail wheel with solid rubber tire (for carrier operations). However, for ground airfields Douglas provided alternate, pneumatic, two times larger wheel. These tail wheels could be easily replaced in workshops.
Starting from the beginning: here is the SBD-1, the first of the Douglas Dauntless series (Figure 10‑1):