Recreating Grooves in the Sheet Metal Panels

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 (Figure 95‑1):

Figure 95-1 Reinforcements of the inner cowling: the grooves, pressed in the sheet metal panels

They are 0.7-1.0” wide (Figure 95‑1a) and span over the inner cowling along its radial directions (Figure 95‑1b, c). In the SBD-5 and -6 these reinforcing grooves occur only on the lower part of the cowling (Figure 95‑1b), while in the earlier versions (SBD-1, -2, -3, and -4) they are also present on the  upper part (Figure 95‑1c).

Even when the flaps on the NACA cowling are closed, you can still see rounded endings of these grooves around the cowling rear edge (Figure 95‑2):

Figure 95-2 Reinforcing grooves visible behind the NACA cowling

In the earlier versions (SBD-1..SBD-4) they appear on the narrow strip behind the NACA cowling (Figure 95‑2a). 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 95‑2b).

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.

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Differences between Dauntless Versions: Carburetor Air Duct

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 94‑1 shows the initial state of my SBD-5 model:

Figure 94-1 SBD-5: the carburetor and its cowling (initial state)

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Mounting the Engine

In my previous post I have finished the second variant of the R-1820-52 “Cyclone” engine, which was used in the SBD-3 and -4. (It looks like the earlier R-1820-32 model, mounted in the SBD-1 and -2). In the resulting Blender file linked at the end of that post you will find two “Cyclone” versions: the R-1820-52 (for the earlier SBD versions, up to SBD-4) and the R-1820-60 (for the SBD-5 and -6). Each of these engines has its own “scene”.

To “mount” these engines into my SBD models, I imported both scenes to the main Blender file. I defined each engine variant as a group, to facilitate placing them in the aircraft models as the group instances. I also added the firewall bulkhead and updated the shape of the cowling behind the cylinder row. (I will refer to this piece as the “inner cowling”). So far I did not especially care for the shape of its central part, hidden below the NACA ring. Now I updated it for the real size and shape of the engine mounting ring (Figure 93‑1a):

Figure 93-1 Mounting frame details

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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):

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:

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):

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”.

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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:

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):

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):

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:

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:

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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