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SBD Dive Bomber Recovered from Lake Michigan (Air Zoo)

In 2009, after 65 years spent at the bottom of Lake Michigan, a barely recognizable Douglas SBD Dive Bomber arrived at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo to be restored to its former glory. These dive bombers, officially titled “Scout/Bomber from Douglas,” had a huge impact during World War II and were later credited with with turning the tide in the war against Japan (Bugnaski 2016). The specific aircraft restored from Lake Michigan was used as an instructional model to teach student pilots to practice landings on a cargo ship in the middle of Lake Michigan (WWMT 2016), but that does not mean that the Douglas SBD Dive Bomber does not possess a captivating history.

The Douglas SBD Dive Bomber was utilized in World War II as both a scouting plane and a dive bomber. This line of aircraft played a crucial role during this war, so important that “half the aircraft on U.S. carriers were Dauntlesses in the first year of the war” (Bugnaski 2016). Its innovatively created design allowed for strategic and calculated bombings, free of the risk of losing stabilization and ultimately losing control or worse. The National Naval Aviation Museum states that, “No tactic represented Naval Aviation’s rise to preeminence during World War II more than dive-bombing, and no aircraft embodied the success of this tactic more than the Douglas SBD Dauntless. An innovative design, the aircraft incorporated perforated dive-flaps which stabilized and slowed it during bombing runs of seventy-plus degree dives” (National Naval Aviation Museum). Although they were a bit slow, they proved incredibly effective in performing in its area of expertise, hence the affectionately given nickname “Slow but Deadly” by air crews that flew it (Panko).

Not only were the planes remarkable in performing bombings and scouting missions, but some pilots who flew these planes were just as noteworthy themselves. During the Battle of Midway in June of 1942, American pilots found themselves in a very sticky situation when facing the Japanese forces they were against. Because of a failure in communication, the American pilots were underprepared, with three Douglas SBDs facing multiple Japanese carriers. However, Lt. Richard Best made the impossible possible. By strategically bombing the flight deck of one of the carriers, Best caused this carrier that would have normally outdone him to burst into flames, creating imagery described as, “Crewmen were literally blown over the side” (Panko). This battle could have very quickly turned sour for the American pilots, if Lt. Best had not thought of this incredible plan. This was a large move to show that Douglas SBDs were a force to reckon with.

Douglas SBD Bomber in the condition it arrived at the Air Zoo



Secondary Sources: 

1. Bugnaski, Mark (2016). “WWII bomber recovered from Lake Michigan arrives at Air Zoo for restoration,” Kalamazoo News. Link

2. Anonymous Author. “SBD Dauntless (Sunken Treasures),” National Naval Aviation MuseumLink

3. WWMT (2016). “Air Zoo restoring World War II dive bomber pulled from Lake Michigan”, WWMT. Link

4. Panko, Ray. “Douglas SBD Dauntless Scout/Dive Bomber,” Pacific Aviation Museum. Link

For Further Reading

Douglas SBD Dive Bomber Wikipedia Page

Kalamazoo Air Zoo Wikipedia Page