Curtiss SB2C-4 “Helldiver”, VB-86, CV-18 “Wasp” (Revell)

TYPE: Carrier-based dive bomber

ACCOMMODATION: Pilot and radio operator/gunner

POWER PLANT: One Wright R-2600-20 “Twin Cyclone” radial engine, rated at 1,900 hp

PERFORMANCE: 295 mph at 16,700 ft

COMMENT: The Curtiss SB2C “Helldiver” was developed to replace the Douglas SBD “Dauntless”. It was a much larger aircraft, able to operate from the latest aircraft carriers and carry a considerable array of armament. It featured an internal bomb bay that reduced drag when carrying heavy ordnance. Saddled with demanding requirements set forth by both the U.S. Marines and United States Army Air Forces, the manufacturer incorporated features of a “multi-role” aircraft into the design.
The first prototype made its maiden flight on December 1940. It crashed on February 1941 when its engine failed on approach, but Curtiss was asked to rebuild it. The fuselage was lengthened and a larger tail was fitted, while an autopilot was fitted to help the poor stability. The revised prototype flew again on October 1941, but was destroyed when its wing failed during diving tests on December 1941.
Large-scale production had already been ordered on November 1940, but a large number of modifications were specified for the production model. Fin and rudder area were increased, fuel capacity was increased, self-sealing tanks were added and the fixed armament was doubled to four 12.7 mm machine guns in the wings, compared with the prototype’s two cowling guns. The SB2C-2 was built with larger fuel tanks, improving its range considerably.
The program suffered so many delays that the Grumman TBF “Avenger” entered service before the “Helldiver”, even though the “Avenger” had begun its development two years later. Nevertheless, production tempo accelerated with production at Columbus, Ohio and two Canadian factories.
The U.S. Navy would not accept the SB2C until 880 modifications to the design and the changes on the production line had been made, delaying the Curtiss “Helldiver’s” combat debut until November 1943. Among its major faults, the “Helldiver” was underpowered, had a shorter range than the Douglas SBD, was equipped with an unreliable electrical system, and was often poorly manufactured. The solution to these problems began with the introduction of the SB2C-3 beginning in 1944, which used the R-2600-20 Twin Cyclone engine with 1,900 hp and Curtiss’ four-bladed propeller. This substantially solved the chronic lack of power that had plagued the aircraft
In operational experience, it was found that the U.S. Navy’s Grumman F6F “Hellcat” and Vought F4U “Corsair” fighters were able to carry an equally heavy bomb load against ground targets and were vastly more capable of defending themselves against enemy fighters. The “Helldiver”, however, could still deliver ordnance with more precision against specific targets and its two-seat configuration permitted a second set of eyes. A “Helldiver” also has a significant advantage in range over a fighter while carrying a bombload, which is extremely important in naval operations.
The advent of air-to-ground rockets ensured that the SB2C-4 was the last purpose-built dive bomber produced. Rockets allowed precision attack against surface naval and land targets, while avoiding the stresses of near-vertical dives and the demanding performance requirements that they placed on dive bombers.
Crew nicknames for the aircraft included the “Big-Tailed Beast”, or just the derogatory “Beast” due to its size, weight, and reduced range compared to the SBD it replaced.  A total of 7,140 Curtiss SB2C “Helldivers” were produced in World War II (Ref.: 24).

Messerschmitt Me 163A V4 (MPM Models)

TYPE: Rocket-powered interceptor test bed


POWER PLANT: One Walter R II-203b bi-fuel liquid rocket, rated between 150 to 750 kp


COMMENT: In early 1941, based on the success by the DFS 194, production of a prototype series, known as the Messerschmitt Me 163, began. Secrecy was such that the RLM’S “GL/C” airframe number, 8163, was actually that of the earlier, pre-July 1938 Messerschmitt Bf 163. It was thought that intelligence services would conclude any reference to the number “163” would be for that earlier design. Five prototypes (V1 to V5) were ordered designated Messerschmitt Me 163A “Komet” (“Comet”).
In May 1941 the Messerschmitt Me 163A V4 was shipped to Peenemünde to receive the Walter HWK RII-203 engine. By 2 October 1941, the Me 163A V4, bearing the radio call sign letters, or Stammkennzeichen, “KE+SW”, set a new world speed record of 624.2 mph. Piloted by Heini Dittmar, the fully tanked up aircraft was towed to an altitude of 13,120 ft behind a Messerschmitt Me 110C. After casting-off from the tow-plane, the rocket engine was fired. At about Mach 0.84 compressibility effects resulted in a sudden loss of stability, and the Me 163A V4 went into a dive. Dittmar promptly cut the rocket motor, the aircraft decelerating rapidly and full control being restored. The aircraft was landed on skids with no apparent damage to the aircraft during the attempt.
During further flight testing, the superior gliding capability of the Me 163A proved detrimental to safe landing. As the now un-powered aircraft completed its final descent, it could rise back into the air with the slightest updraft. Since the approach was unpowered, there was no opportunity to make another landing pass. For production models, a set of landing flaps allowed somewhat more controlled landings. This issue remained a problem throughout the program. Nevertheless, the overall performance was tremendous, and plans were made to put the Messerschmitt Me 163 squadrons all over Germany in 40-kilometre rings (25 mi) around any potential target. Development of an operational version was given the highest priority.
Five prototype Me 163A V-series aircraft were built, adding to the original DFS 194 (V1), followed by eight pre-production examples designated as “Me 163 A-0”.

Note: Some postwar aviation history publications stated that the Messerschmitt Me 163A V3 (CD+IL) was thought to have set the record. The 1,004 km/h record figure would not be officially approached until the postwar period by the new British and American turbojet-powered aircraft. It was not surpassed (except by the later Me 163B V18 in 1944, but seriously damaged by the attempt) until the American Douglas D-558-I “Skystreak” turbojet-powered research aircraft did so on 20 August 1947 with no damage (Ref.: 24).

Kayaba “Katsuodori” (“Booby Gannet”), (Unicraft, Resin)

TYPE: Interceptor. Project


POWER PLANT: One Kayaba Model 1 ramjet engine rated at 750 kp thrust at 457 mph and four solid fuel rocket boosters for take-off, rated at 7.200 kp thrust

PERFORMANCE: 559 mph (estimated)

COMMENT: The Kayaba “Katsuodori” (“Booby Gannet”) was the result of the endeavor to design a single-seat, ramjet-powered interceptor-minded platform which utilized a short, tailless fuselage configuration with swept-back wing main planes. The cockpit would be held well-forward and offered exceptional vision for the pilot. The mid-mounted main planes were affixed ahead of midship with each tip capped by small vertical stabilizers. The ramjet propulsion system was buried within the tubular fuselage and a rocket-assist scheme (consisting of four externally-held rocket pods) was to be used. The rocket pods were installed under the wing roots and jettisoned once their usefulness had run out. Having achieved the required speeds, the aircraft would then continue on under ramjet power with a flying window of about 30 minutes being estimated. To aspirate the ramjet, the nose section featured an air intake. No conventional undercarriage was provided. Instead the aircraft would glide back home powerless and land on a belly-mounted skid. The ramjet under consideration for the project became the Kayaba Model 1 which promised 750 kp thrust output.
Since the aircraft never achieved prototype form, performance specifications were estimated and this included a maximum speed of 560 miles per hour with a rate-of-climb around 11,000 feet-per-minute. The latter would prove a good quality to have in interception sorties. The service ceiling was listed at 49,215 feet
As an interceptor attempting to tackle very large, slow-moving (but well-defended) targets, it was seen to arm the fighter appropriately through 2 x 30mm Ho-301 series cannons – this was a suitable arrangement to counter even the high-flying and technologically advanced Boeing B-29 “Superfortress” which had made its presence known since mid-1944. The cannons would have been embedded in the sides of the nose.
Design work on the “Katsuodori” progressed into 1943 and plans were underway to begin construction of a working prototype for the following year. However, Japan’s fortunes in the war had worsened into 1944 and the attention of authorities turned to more viable military weapons such as the Rikugun (Mitsubishi) Ki-202 “Sharp Sword”, based on a rocket-powered interceptor developed by Mitsubishi as Ki-200 “Shusui” for the IJAAF and J8M-1 for the IJNAF on the basis of the German Messerschmitt Me 163 “Komet” (Ref.: 24).

Vultee XP-54 “Swoose Goose” (Planet Models, Resin)

TYPE:  High-altitude interceptor


POWER PLANT: One Lycoming XH-2470-1 liquid-cooled engine, rated at 2,300 hp

PERFORMANCE: 381 mph at 28,500 ft

COMMENT: The Vultee Company had submitted a proposal in response to a US Army Air Corps request for an unusual configuration. The Vultee design won the competition, beating the Curtiss XP-55 “Ascender” and Northrop XP-56 “Black Bullet”. Vultee designated it Model 84, a descendant of their earlier Model 78. After completing preliminary engineering and wind tunnel tests, a contract for a prototype was awarded on January 1941. A second prototype was ordered on March 1942..
The XP-54 was designed with a pusher engine in the aft part of the fuselage. The tail was mounted rearward between two mid-wing booms, with the 12-ft propeller between them. The design included a “ducted wing section” developed by the NACA (National Advisory Committee of Aeronautics)  that enabled installation of cooling radiators and intercoolers in the inverted gull wing. The Pratt & Whitney X-1800 engine was initially proposed as the power plant but after its development was discontinued, the liquid-cooled Lycoming XH 2470 was substituted.
In September 1941, the XP-54 mission was changed from low altitude to high altitude interception. Consequently, a turbo-supercharger and heavier armor had to be added, and the estimated empty weight increased from 5,200 to 8,200 kg.
The XP-54 was unique in numerous ways. The pressurized cockpit required a complex entry system: the pilot’s seat acted as an elevator for cockpit access from the ground. The pilot lowered the seat electrically, sat in it, and raised it into the cockpit. Bail-out procedure was complicated by the pressurization system and necessitated a downward ejection of the pilot and seat in order to clear the propeller arc. Also, the nose section could pivot through the vertical, three degrees up and six degrees down. In the nose, two 37 mm T-9 cannon were in rigid mounts while two .50 cal. machine guns were in movable mounts. Movement of the nose and machine guns was controlled by a special compensating gun sight. Thus, the cannon trajectory could be elevated without altering the flight attitude of the airplane. The large nose section gave rise to its whimsical nickname, the “Swoose Goose”, inspired by a song about Alexander who was half swan and half goose: “Alexander was a swoose.”
Flight tests of the first prototype, Serial Nr. 41-1210, began on 15 January 1943. Initial trials showed performance to be substantially below guarantees. At the same time, development of the XH-2470 engine was discontinued and, although it appeared possible to substitute the Allison V-3420 engine without substantial airframe changes, the projected delay and costs resulted in a decision not to consider production buys.
The prototypes continued to be used in an experimental program until problems with the Lycoming engines and lack of spare parts caused termination. The second prototype, 42-108994 (but mistakenly painted as 42-1211) equipped with an experimental General Electric supercharger, only made one flight before it was relegated to a “parts plane” in order to keep the first prototype in the air (Ref.: 24).