With its departure from the United States for restoration being complicated somewhat by the global logistics situation over the last few months, we are pleased to share with everyone that the Dauntless has now boarded the Olivia Maersk to make the trip to New Zealand. The restoration plan outlined at the start of the project engaged Pioneer Aero Ltd. of Ardmore, New Zealand, as the primary restoration shop involved in the work. A secondary shop, Aero Trader, of Chino, California, has also been working on the wings. With the wings completed, their efforts will now focus on the dive brakes and tail surfaces.
The trip to New Zealand is estimated to take about a month, with arrival on or about May 28th, 2023. The Dauntless traveled by truck from the Museum to the Port of Philadelphia, where it was prepared for international transport. It went to sea in the early morning hours of April 26th. At the time of posting, the ship is about to enter the Panama Canal - no doubt, we are all now wondering when exactly it was that an SBD Dauntless last crossed the Pacific Ocean on a ship…
In relation to the restoration, a question we are often asked is, why don’t we just do it here? The truth is, we don’t have the space! At the Museum currently, the demands of the aircraft that are actively being flown means that we simply can’t lock-down the floor space that a project like the Dauntless would take, for the necessary amount of time. This necessitates working with outside shops who likewise specialize in this sort of work. The question of which particular shop to work with regularly comes up as well. There are always a couple of considerations here: some of the most important are Cost (including Shop Rate), Expertise (Have they done this sort of airplane before?), and then of course there is Timeline (Can they start right away, or is their shop floor full, too?) Selecting a shop in New Zealand isn’t to suggest the work couldn’t be done in the United States, but rather to say that when weighed alongside proposals from stateside shops, the ‘Kiwis’ came in strong!
The decision was not undertaken lightly, as there is always a risk to an airframe in transit, particularly for vast distances across the ocean, but it was made a little easier once we learned of the enthusiasm New Zealanders have for the type as well! Several operated from a base at Seagrove, just a few miles from the Pioneer Aero Ltd. shop, and Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) flew them in the South Pacific as well! No. 25 Squadron RNZAF operated them from Piva Airfield on Bougainville against Japanese forces in the region, including the hardened fortress of Rabaul.
With several squadrons initially anticipated to operate the Dauntless (No. 25, 26, 27 and 28), the RNZAF took delivery of nine ex-USMC aircraft, still in their American markings, to begin training air crews. The aircraft are regularly described as war weary, and required extensive maintenance and cannibalization in order to get aircraft in the air. Cries for airplanes that were not so beaten up were eventually answered, and the number of Dauntless’ in service in New Zealand steadily grew through 1943. Only No. 25 Squadron would see operational service with the type however, with 29 of their 32 assigned strikes being completed over the 8 week period of their Operational Tour in Bougainville.
During their time as part of COMAIRSOLS (Commander Air Solomons) the ‘Kiwis’ racked up 530 sorties, totaling 1,750 flying hours. Their almost daily missions saw them drop 280 tons of bombs, for the loss of two aircraft to enemy action, and three to other causes. Before returning to New Zealand, where many of their crews would eventually transition to the Corsair, there was the matter of returning borrowed SBD’s to the Marines. The receiving officer was surprised to note that the ‘Kiwis,’ despite their intensive operational tempo, had handed him airplanes in as-new condition. This was a testament to the attached maintainers, who serviced these airplanes with few spares and often in extreme conditions.
We certainly can’t wait to get ours back from the skilled hands of New Zealanders who share our passion for preserving aviation history, and hopefully, having the airplane down under for a period of time will give our friends in the Southern Hemisphere a chance to see and enjoy it, and to shed some light on perhaps a lesser known piece of RNZAF history for the rest of us!