Douglas SBD Dauntless fuselage view prior to strip down.
A view through an access hatch in the SBD's rear fuselage before the teardown began. Most of what is visible here is the wiring for the radar and radio systems. (photo via Pioneer Aero Ltd.)

The Big Strip:

Following its arrival in late May, the restoration team at Pioneer Aero Ltd. has finally had the opportunity to start working on the fuselage of SBD-5 BuNo 36175. They began by stripping out all of the aircraft's systems - electrical, hydraulic and mechanical - endeavoring to disconnect them from their original connection points as much as possible, although corrosion and impact damage prevented this in some cases.

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A view inside the rear fuselage from another vantage point following the removal of various systems. The large horizontal tube at the right is where the life raft is stowed while, at the left, you can see the parachute flare tubes. At the bottom, remnants of the radio and radar systems racks are visible. (photo via Pioneer Aero Ltd.)

The Gunners Compartment:

The images below show the rear gunner's compartment during the teardown process. While it may seem incongruous to some, the SBD came equipped with a second control column and rudder pedals. Note the provision for a second control stick and rudder pedals. For normal operations, the stick would have been stowed on the left side of the cockpit wall. A comparison image showing the gunner's cockpit in the National Air & Space Museum's fully-restored SBD-6 is provided. Quite how anyone in the rear cockpit could have flown a Dauntless safely from this position is uncertain, but it might have been helpful having a second set of hands to assist with the pull out on a dive bombing run. Whether such an option was exercised in combat is uncertain.

The Cockpit:

It was interesting to observe the difference in preservation of similar components within relative proximity to one another. While some items were in almost perfect condition, others nearby were almost completely corroded away.

Once the systems have all been stripped from the fuselage, the next step will involve drilling off the non-structural components, (e.g. the fuel selector mount, radio mount trays, etc.). This will allow access to the structural joints which need drilling apart so that the fuselage/center section can be separated into its major components. That is when the serious restoration work can begin!