1/32 Trumpeter SBD-5 Dauntless – Part 1



When The Weathering Magazine’s aircraft-focused spinoff, Weathering Aircraft, reached out to me about doing a build for an upcoming publication, the request was pretty wide open. World War II, with a focus on painting a camoflage scheme.

After a few false starts, I decided to tackle a late-war SBD-5 Dauntless. The Douglas SBD Dauntless is one of the unsung workhorses of the war. Slated for replacement before the first bombs even fell at Pearl Harbor, it proved instrumental in turning the tide in the Pacific, and was ultimately responsible for sinking more Japanese ships than any other aircraft.

The SBD-3, which distinguished itself at Coral Sea, Midway and Guadalcanal, gets the lion’s share of the attention, but the -5 was the most produced variant, and did a lot of the dirty work later in the war. It also wore the tricolor camoflage that I personally find more interesting than the bluegray over light gray of the early war dive bombers.

It’s been nearly six years since I built my last Dauntless – Accurate Miniatures’ SBD-3 (my second build after coming back to the hobby). My memories of that kit have dimmed, but I clearly recall the frustration with the cockpit, which built up in a sort of top/bottom sandwich with the cockpit floor loading up and into the fuselage. This made test-fitting next to impossible and ultimately caused some issues getting everything installed, with some elements hanging down trying to occupy the same space as those loading up.

The wingroots, too, were a challenge on that kit. But it was my second kit back to the hobby, so just as likely my own incompetence.

Trumpeter’s side-load approach to the cockpit clears away the problems the AccuMini kit ran into, though the initial test-fit shows that the wingroots are still an issue.

More on that later.

The Wright R-1820

After the…unpleasantness with the Kitty Hawk Kingfisher, Trumpeter’s R-1820 and indeed the entire assembly forward of the cockpit was a pleasure to work with. The two are similar enough that I’d liken it to looking at a picture that’s out of focus, and then one that’s crisp and sharp.


Trumpeter’s R-1820 is engineered in a straightforward fashion. The cylinders join front-and-rear. Up front, the pushrods go down next. The ignition ring lines up with the crankcase cover thanks to a few location tabs, and then the whole thing smacks down into some alignment holes.

Everything fits, and fits well. And, importantly for an engine, it can be built up after individual components are painted.


Behind the cylinders, the thoughtfulness continues. Everything has nice, positive fit. The exhaust collector rings end in nice, keyed notches, allowing you to install the actual exhaust outlets after the cowl is installed, giving you, again, tons of flexibility in when you bring various pieces together. The mounting frames are more or less foolproof, and you can even bring in the (randomly) clear panels to help hold everything together while solvent cement locks everything in place.

Painting the engine is straightfoward…

After the main colors were down, I added some micro tubing for the spark plug wiring, then wired the thing up to the ignition ring with lead wire. Ultimately, lead wire that was too narrow, in my opinion.

Unhappy with the too-thin wiring, I added a few coats of Vallejo paint to thicken it up a bit, finishing with some Vallejo Metal Color Copper.

Next – because a clean engine is a boring engine, came some weathering.

Most of the work was done with Ammo Panel Line Washes, with some AK Engine Oil and Kerosene used to represent a seal leak on the crankcase cover.

The Cockpit

While the R-1820 was proceeding, I was also working on the Dauntless’ cockpit. As I mentioned up above, Trumpeter’s side-load approach is welcome here, since it allows for a lot of flexibility in how and when various parts are painted, weathered and installed.

One of the first things I dealt with was the instrument panel. This uses acetate gauges (which are just the best):

It also – frustratingly – uses a clear part to represent the entire instrument panel. This necessitated masking off the individual gauges for the acetate sheet to show through.

After all the painting, some light weathering, adding of some stencils, and unmasking the gauges, here’s how it all came out.

The cockpit itself was given a base of Alclad RAF High Speed Silver, with a coat of Ammo chipping fluid, and then a custom Tamiya mix to represent Interior Green. This was then scratched and chipped back in places.

Detail painting, additional weathering, and seatbelts came next.

The pilot’s seat harnesses are HGW four-pointers. Like many other aircraft including the F4F Wildcat and OS2U Kingfisher, the Dauntless started the war with lap belts for the pilot. A more secure four point harness was added later. The kit seatbelts don’t depict that, and are thick, unyielding photo etch anyway, so replacement with HGW fabric belts was an obvious choice.

For the gunner’s seat, a lapbelt was still needed. I opted to take a belt set for the Kitty Hawk Kingfisher and replace the belt material with strips cut from a dollar bill.

NOTE: I’ve since realized that HGW does indeed make lap belts – you can find them in the sets for big bombers like the B-25 and B-17. If you’re planning something like a B-25 Strafer you’ll have a spare set or two you can use.

After the belts were sorted, the fuselage was closed up. At this point, you really realize just how little of the cockpit is easily viewed.

I cannot stress this enough. 

The Dauntless, like many aircraft of the period, suffers from “round body” syndrome. Sure the cockpit aperture looks huge, but the body curves out and away, obscuring much of the detail. You see similar things on the Kingfisher, F4F Wildcat, and even the Corsair.

Memories of this phenomenon with the AccuMini kit are what kept me from investing in any fancy resin cockpit stuff with the Trumpeter kit. Unlike a Bf 109 (or even a P-47, with it’s isolated cockpit tub), the Dauntless’ cockpit becomes mostly invisible. The IMPACT VS. EFFORT equation just doesn’t justify resin, in my opinion.

In Part 2…

Coming up next, main construction and dive brakes, oh my!





7 Comments Add yours

  1. willpattison says:

    the weathering mag “reached out to you”? well, aren’t we just the pompous, narcissist asshole. HEH.

    1. Tim Wilding says:

      Better then getting a reach around.

  2. jonsteed47 says:

    I have the Matchbox version of this plane is this kit alright for a person just getting back into aircraft yes or no ? P.S. it is also the same scale as well .

    1. Doogs says:

      Honestly, unless you really like scratchbuilding, I’d set my sights on something else.

  3. Ted Briscoe says:

    Great build so far. I love the detail work on the instrument panel and appreciate the time that it took. Now what would you rather be doing….building a piece of art or critiquing some model kit that the manufacturer will most likely pay no attention to your analysis ? I think that Will would agree that being pompous and narcissist to some degree adds “character”.

  4. Steve Fauer says:

    I’ve nearly pulled the trigger on this kit many times but haven’t due to Trumpeter’s history of hit or miss kits. Online reviews of this kit have been cryptic, very much looking forward to your build and your honest review.

  5. wayne says:

    Could you please tell me what HGW seat belt harness you used?

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