Amongst the components shipped to New Zealand was the partial fuselage from Douglas RA-24B Banshee 42-54593, an Army Air Forces variant of the Dauntless. The MGM movie studio once used this airframe, along with a number of other examples, to simulate wind on their film sets when needed. While the film company had cut away most of the fuselage during their wind-machine modifications, the firewall bulkhead was still very much intact. This offered the perfect opportunity for Pioneer to work on the firewall-forward parts of the Dauntless while they awaited the arrival of our SBD-5 fuselage.
After applying anti-corrosive paint to the engine mount, which was in exceptional condition, technicians attached it to the A-24's firewall to begin the process of building up the engine section and associated paneling.
Pioneer began this effort by first working on the “Dish Pan” (an informal name for the pan-shaped diaphragm which attaches to the engine mount right behind the exhaust manifold). This sheetmetal structure acts as a heat shield for the more temperature-sensitive items in the engine accessory compartment immediately behind it.
BuNo 36175's dish pan had absorbed significant damage during the January 1944 crash, but thankfully, the example which came with the A-24 was in much better condition. The center seal section, however, was absent so Pioneer had to manufacture its replacement.
The dish pan only had minor issues to deal with. It will need new anchor nuts and Dzus springs, treatment for mild surface corrosion, and minor dents addressed. As already noted, the center seal was missing, so Pioneer had to manufacture a replacement. To perform this task, the team first fabricated a forming block from MDF (an inexpensive, easily machinable wood fibre composite). They determined the appropriate size and shape using a combination of the available dish pan sections and scaling up the original SBD drawings.
The team then cut three sections of untempered aluminum sheet (2024 T0) to approximately the correct size for the new component and then began shaping these over the MDF former by hand using a variety of planishing hammers and a shrinker. Once all three sections were in the proper shape, the technicians trimmed the edges to the correct size and positioned the parts to interlock with one another.
The new center seal was then offered up to the original dish pan sections to check the fit; only minor adjustments were required to get them to match each other properly. This then allowed mounting holes to be drilled into the newly-made parts so that they would line up properly with the other components. With everything being checked for fit, the team then mounted the rear cowling sections, which are all original, Douglas-built parts. It is so exciting to see everything line up perfectly! Note the conformal gun ports in the upper cowlings for the SBD's nose-mounted machine guns.
While each of these cowling sections came from the A-24, they are essentially identical to those found on an SBD-5. BuNo 36175 lost its own units when it ditched in Lake Michigan back in 1944.