Original SBD Dauntless Blueprints: Fuselage Geometry (1)

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:

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Figure 112-1 Fuselage structure: documented and undocumented areas

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”).

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Comparing My SBD Model with Original Blueprints

In this posts I will analyze differences between my 3D model (built from 2015 to 2019) 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:

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Figure 110-1 My error in the wing location (0.12”)

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”.

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Original SBD Dauntless Blueprints: Wing Geometry

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):

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Figure 109-1 Master diagram of the wing geometry (sheet 2/2)

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.

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Original SBD Dauntless Blueprints: Initial Findings

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.

I chose about 1000 frames (mostly assembly drawings) from this microfilm set, and organized them into a tree-like structure as in Figure 108‑1:

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Figure 108-1 Folder structure for the SBD blueprints

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.

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Original Douglas SBD Blueprints: First Impressions

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:

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Figure 107-1 Description of the SBD/A-24 microfilm set in the NASM 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:

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Figure 107-2 SBD-5 inboard profile

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

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Recreating the P-40B Engine Cowling (Side Contour)

In the previous post I finally identified Curtiss layout sketch L-10202 as description of the XP-40 geometry, as it was in February 1940. In that time Curtiss was finishing preparations for serial production of the P-40. (The first P-40 from this batch was accepted by USAAC in April 1940). This final variant of the XP-40 resembled the serial P-40-cu, except the tail wheel cover and rear glass frames, “inherited” from the P-36. However, the archival photos revealed minor differences between engine cowlings of these aircraft: the serial P-40 had longer spinner and deeper radiator cover.

It seems that all the original drawings and sketches of the early P-40s that I collected from the AirCorps Library resources describe the XP-40. Thus, first I will prepare the XP-40 side view using this original documentation. Then I will draw a P-40B side contour, using these XP-40 lines and available P-40-cu/B/C photos.

As I showed in one of previous posts, the XP-40 sketches are not only rare, but also in poor shape:

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Figure 102-1 Original sketch of the cooler air scoop (layout L-10276, in two overlapping microfilm frames)

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Verification of an Unidentified Layout Drawing

Generally speaking, the early P-40s (-cu, B, C) were “P-36 airframes with inline engines”.  Thus, the only unique first-order assembly in these P-40 variants was their engine compartment. So far it seemed that the documentation of this area was lost, and the restoration teams had to rely on archival photos and other restored P-40B/C. (A P-40B restoration teamfrom New Zealand mentioned this in their interview).

In my post from August 2019 (Fig. 98-13 and Fig. 98-14) I described a previously unnoticed layout sketch, that I found among the “uncategorized” P-36/P-40 drawings in the AirCorps “P-40” microfilm set:

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Figure 101-1 Engine cowling layout sketch (L-10202)

It can describe the geometry of the “long nose Hawk” engine cowling. In the same AirCorps Library uncategorized “pile” I also found some regular XP-40 drawings (engine mount, radiator support) and other sketches. However, the lines in all these images are faded, making them nearly unreadable. The L-10202 sketch is the most promising blueprint that I have found. In this post I will try to match this layout to the P-40B fuselage that I prepared in my previous post. I will also use photos to evaluate the results (i.e. for checking if the sketched engine cowling layout matches the real aircraft).

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Recreating the P-40B Side Contour (1)

As I wrote in the previous post, it is impossible to find a complete documentation of the early P-40 variants (so-called “long nose Hawks”: P-40cu, P-40B and P-40C). I collected all what is currently available from the Internet portals: blueprints of their direct predecessor (P-36) and drawings of the later variants (the “short nose” P-40D … P-40N). Using these scanned microfilm frames, archival photos and technical descriptions you can recreate the wings, empennage, tail and mid-fuselage of these aircraft.

I started with the most obvious part of the side view: the fuselage.  Behind the firewall it was basically identical to the P-36, except the tail wheel cover:

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Figure 99-1 The P-36 fuselage (behind the firewall) with modified tail wheel cover as for the P-40B

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How I Organized Original Blueprints of an Aircraft

Before you organize the original blueprints of an aircraft, collect as many reference photos as possible, and familiarize yourself with the aircraft shape, main assemblies and – especially – their joints. You will need all this knowledge to quickly recognize the drawings you need. About 60% of the original blueprints depict various small, internal details (tubes, brackets, plates, etc.) which are necessary only when you would like to build a real, flying airplane.

To select a useful subset of these blueprints, I had to review all the drawings in the microfilm set, and copy some of them into one of the target folders:

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Figure 98-1 Target folders structure and contents of a single folder

You can do such a “review” using two File Explorer windows: one for the source drawing list (of course with the preview pane), and the other for the target folder.

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Original Blueprints of a Historical Aircraft

Recreating geometry of a historical aircraft is usually a painstaking, iterative process. You can see this in my work on the SBD Dauntless. During the long hours of studying the photos and trying to figure out the precise shape of this plane I often wished to have its source blueprints! For many years the access to the original documentation was “the Holy Grail” of the advanced modelers. (Everybody wished to have this ultimate resource, but only few saw it. And even those, who saw these drawings, often did not know what they are seeing).

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Figure 97-1 This copy of the P-47 drawing was made using the old blueprint method

When the production of an aircraft is definitely closed, and it quits the service, its blueprints are packed into manufacturer’s archives. After a few decades most of these companies are sold, while the less successful ones are out of the business. The original technical documentation of an aircraft usually becomes a bunch of useless, unreadable paper rolls that disappear in trash bins.

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