Painting & Weathering Study: Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless



With the Kingfisher out of the running for my upcoming magazine build, I’ve had to cast around for another suitable subject. The only real requirement is that the subject be painted in the tricolor camoflage worn by US Navy and Marine aircraft in World War II.

I’m hesitant to pull out HK’s B-25 for a PBJ-ification. Warmer weather is coming, and with it, the spiders that always cause havoc at the bench. My last go-round at an HK B-25 was delayed because the damn things kept building webs in the bomb bay. I also considered Tamiya’s F4U-1A Corsair, but they’ve kinda been done to death for the moment.

Then I had a thought. How about a Dauntless? Trumpeter makes a good kit. It’s one you don’t see built all that often, and when it is, it’s almost inevitably an earlier SBD-3 dressed up for Coral Sea, Midway or Guadalcanal. Which I totally get. In terms of historical impact, 1942 was the Dauntless’ year.

But…the SBD-5 was built in larger numbers than any other variant, and performed a workhorse role in the long slog to drive the Japanese back to their home islands. It has a quieter but still significant story.

Before I embark on the build (or even choose which markings I want to go with), I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to look at some examples of the SBD-5 in action, and note some interesting painting and weathering characteristics.

This photo, from Life Magazine, shows a “typical” SBD-5. It’s not a filthy, battered wreck, but it’s definitely not clean and polished. There are a few signs of chipping up by the wingroot and on the cowl, probably from maintenance work. The tricolor is soft-edged, but to varying degrees. Look both in front of and behind the “35” – there’s a different hardness there that  makes me thing perhaps the intermediate blue has been touched up.

It’s also worth noting the deeper blue of the rudder – not an uncommon sight on the Dauntless. Additionally, the demarcation line between the intermediate blue and white is inconsistent from the cowl to the fuselage.

This VB-16 Dauntless has a much more definite demarcation than “35” up above. It’s also interesting how the dark sea blue extends up on the tail fillet here. Oh, and note the rudder is the same tone as the tail.

A final point of interest with #18 here is the exhaust. It’s not black and sooty. It’s actually lighter colored, something common on many US aircraft running higher-grade fuel.

#27 shows very exaggerated staining along the wingroot, as does #31 below it. The tricolor here appears far more muted, as well, possibly due to camera/film/exposure reasons, but also almost certainly due to some fading. Look at the very clean upper cowl, which points to a recent repaint/replacement.

This SBD-5 has obviously had a bad day, and judging by the dark shit that’s spewed out of the engine. Here, though, you can also see the very light-colored exhaust staining going all the way back down the fuselage along the wingroot. You can also see the heavy fading and staining on the upper wings, something rarely captured well in reference photos given the angles from which SBDs were frequently captured.

Another SBD-5, this one with VB-16, having another bad day. But note here the fading, variation, grit accumulation and so on going on with the upper wing surfaces.

Here’s an interesting  one from VMSB-231 (you can tell from the larger land-based tailwheel and the small “Ace of Spades” squadron logo by the forward antenna mast. Interesting to note the touch-up paint near the cockpit, the feathered demarcation edge at the wing root and the anti-slip walkway that’s faded to be significantly lighter than the dark blue of the wing.

Check out the fuselage insignia. You can see a few small sections where the blue border has either faded or chipped away to reveal the red underneath.

Finally, on the starboard wing, note the discolored panel. I won’t call this a common occurrence on Dauntlesses, but it’s definitely not a one-of-a-kind thing either. I’m sure it’s not the case, but considering that it’s usually this single part of the wingtip, and it’s either a much lighter tone on the upper surfaces, or a darker one on the lower surfaces, part of me wonders if maybe this part of the wingtip was left/right interchangeable. I mean I doubt it…but maybe? Otherwise, randomly painting the wingtip either intermediate blue or white seems really silly, when they clearly have dark sea blue on hand.

This SBD-5 is kind of the opposite of the one above with the replaced wingtip. Again, has me legitimately wondering if perhaps those tips were left/right interchangeable.

Also note the fading on the wing in the foreground – can’t see much of it, but that insignia is rather washed out.


Wow! Check out the rudder on #20! That’s a dark, dark blue – it actually looks just based on the context of the image that it might be insignia blue.

Here’s another VMSB-231 Dauntless. Being a land-based Marine squadron, it’s ditched the hard rubber tailwheel for a more traditional one. And look at the main tires – that’s block tread! Also, note the overspray of the dark sea blue onto the underside leading edge of the outer starboard wing. And the really interesting touch-up/overspray/whatever is going on at the intermediate blue/white demarcation on the cowl.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. A good photo base for any upcoming builds…..As far as the spiders go, I wonder if there’s something you could add to a primer mix which would kill the little bastards on their way into the bomb bay.

  2. Casssandra Branch says:

    Fascinating study.

    I bet the very dark (red?) rudder is a squadron commander’s marking. Interchangeable wing tips is an interesting thought — but could it also be some sort of squadron / airgroup marking? (Apparently VMSB-331 had light blue wingtips.)

    I suspect the paint touch-up on the VMSB-231 plane covers the kills & name of the previous owner.

  3. Pat Brown says:

    This kind of stuff is *almost* what i love most about modeling. Dissecting old photos and records and filling my head with awesome minutiae. As for the SBD-5; great choice! Severely under-done. I’ve got a bunch of walkaround photos of the one on display at Ford Island if you can use them. It’s not in 3 tone, but the wasn’t any rope around it so I was able to get real close.

  4. orfyworfy says:

    Genius stuff as always Matt, can’t wait to see this one in progress.

  5. Mathias says:

    It appears the Dauntless has a cambered airfoil section at the tip.
    Therefore, I doubt the wing tip setions were interchangeable. But hey, who knows?!

  6. MaximumDave says:

    great stuff Matt – you’ll find some good photos of RNZAF SBD5’s operating out of the Solomons on the web – they also had the 3 colour scheme – the grey exhaust colour is common on allied aircraft and is down to the leaded fuel allowing octane ratings of 100 and above – the lead residue being the grey stuff left behind!

  7. John Taylor says:

    Hey Matt.
    Any chance you can update the photo links. Over half of these don’t show up for me.
    Great work. Love you black basing work.

  8. John Taylor says:

    Never mind Matt. They all just showed up.

  9. Sylvain says:

    I have been trying to find out for a very long time what is the feature that the SBD #27 carries under its wing ?
    Can’t find it in any books nor online …
    The only thing I could think off is maybe a life raft or some device to reduce drag while on scout missions; but it’s more likely to be the raft…

    Would really appreciate someone to enlightening me !


  10. Tim says:

    Hello, in response to what is hanging under SBD #27 it is a wing bomb rack and there is another on the other side. Both are empty as is the center 1000 lb bomb rack below the pilot’s cockpit. The life raft and drinking water are stored in a rear circular compartment accessible from the outside behind the gunner/ radioman’s cockpit. SBD #18 has a wing bomb still attached. Currently helping restore SBD Dauntless SP2 Bu No 2173 in Kalamazoo, Mi. Found in Lake Michigan after 65 years underwater.

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