Sbd Fuselage P89 E&m Small
A side view of a freshly manufactured SBD fuselage assembly. In good time, the restoration team at Pioneer Aero Ltd will return our Dauntless fuselage assembly to an equally pristine condition. (image taken from page 89 of the SBD-6 Erection & Maintenance Manual)

Fuselage Disassembly:

Over the past few weeks, the aircraft restoration specialists at Pioneer Aero Ltd. in Ardmore, New Zealand have begun the time-consuming process of disassembling the SBD’s fuselage into its major subassemblies. This will allow easier access to each of these components for a thorough, down-to-the-last-rivet rebuild. 

Sbd Diagram Delineating Fuselage Frame And Station Numbers P39 E&m Manual Small
A side view diagram delineating the location for each of the SBD's fuselage frames numbered 1 through 17. Note that each of these frames has an associated "Station Number" which represents the physical distance (in inches) of its forward surface from the front of Frame #1. (image from page 39 of the SBD-6 Erection & Maintenance Manual)

Dauntless Fuselage - A Description:

Douglas designed the Dauntless around a semi-monocoque fuselage, meaning that the stressed-skin outer shell, which bears much of the loading, is reinforced with longerons and stringers. This is in addition to the  ribs/frames and bulkheads usually found in a pure monocoque structure.

There are 17 frames in the SBD’s fuselage, running down its length at roughly 18” intervals, with Frame #1 being at the firewall while Frame #17 is where the tail gear attaches. The fuselage itself is divided into an upper and lower half, with the split occurring at the aircraft’s horizontal centerline. Each fuselage frame (except #17) has an upper and a lower half, riveted together with splice plates on either side of it. The skin panels for the upper and lower half are riveted along the #6 longerons on either side of the fuselage

The wing center section, while integral to the fuselage, is manufactured as a separate subassembly. The vertical stabilizer separates from the fuselage upper half at Frame #15.

Sbd Fuselage Drawing Small
A side view manufacturing drawing of the SBD's fuselage.
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The Breakdown Process:

To break down the fuselage into its major subassemblies, Pioneer’s engineers first removed what remained of the aircraft’s firewall at Frame #1. This allowed easier access to the interior of the forward fuselage. They then identified the various brackets, splice plates and stiffeners which needed removing to allow the separation of the upper half of the fuselage. The captions for the images below will explain the  process in greater detail.

Sbd Fuselage Drawing 2 Small
A topside view manufacturing drawing of the SBD's fuselage. Note the numerous sectional views describing the layout for the splice plates which join the upper and lower halves of each fuselage frame. The riveting arrangement for each of the engine mount lugs is also described in its own drawing as well.

SBD Walkaround with Martin Hedley


Fuselage Separation Timelapse Video


Next Steps:

Pioneer Aero’s engineers are currently building jigs to hold the wing centre section and upper fuselage to permit their accurate restoration. The next step will involve separating the rear sections of the lower fuselage, which split off just aft of the wing trailing edge. The radio rack, aft diaphragm in the pilot’s cockpit, and floor structure in the gunner’s cockpit will also have to come out. The team will then de-rivet the wing root fairings and remaining fuselage on the topside of the wing center section. The vertical stabilizer assembly will also be separated from the upper fuselage and placed in a jig for restoration.

The team plans to focus their restoration efforts on the wing center section and upper fuselage simultaneously. Once the wing center section is done, they will rebuild the lower fuselage section which mounts atop it. And when they have completed the upper fuselage section they will proceed to the lower aft sections. There is still a lot of work to do, but it is clearly full speed ahead in Ardmore! We look forwards to revealing the latest work from the master craftsmen at Pioneer Aero Ltd.