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The restored SBD-3 Dauntless is hoisted into place at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. The Museum is closed until April 1 for renovations.

Photo by Gwenn Adams

Museum hoists dive bomber into place

8 Mar 2016 | Gwenn Adams Marine Corps Base Quantico

Nearly 73 years after crashing into Lake Michigan, an SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber is soaring once again, this time over Leatherneck Gallery at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. An installation team carefully hoisted the aircraft inch by inch until it was positioned in a dramatic 40-degree dive angle with dive flaps open and a replica 1,000 pound bomb suspended underneath looming over the Museum’s central gallery.

She was originally slated for display in the Museum’s WWII gallery, but after close inspection NMMC personnel determined that a full restoration was required to safely exhibit the aircraft. The Museum’s Restoration team spent more than 62,000 man hours on the shop floor and countless hours of research to completely restore the Dauntless. The precise, meticulous restoration work may not have been possible without the original SBD blueprints taken from a Marine Corps Overhaul and Repair facility by an aviation Marine as he helped close the facility down at the end of WWII. That Marine, Maj Jack Elliott (ret), went on to serve a total of 24 years, seeing combat in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He’s now a docent at the Museum and lent his expertise in restoring the aircraft that is very much like the one he served as a gunner on during WWII. In fact, at least half of the Museum’s Restoration team have served in the Corps and most of them were (or are) airframers.

With the Museum’s mission to preserve the material history of the Corps in perpetuity, the team used original parts where possible and manufactured others using the blueprints, microfiche from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and original manuals for the SBD to restore the Dauntless. Even the gun synchronization system and the autopilot are also nearly completely restored.

Century Aviation from Wenatchee, Washington and riggers from iWeiss Theatrical Solutions were contracted to lift the Dauntless into place above the Tarawa tableau. Using four hoists, cabling, engineering prowess and a great deal of patience, the team slowly lifted the aircraft up, then over, up and finally tilted it into its final dive position. Visitors can even see the pilot and gunner from the overlooks on the Museum’s second floor.

Seeing the SBD finally in its place was exciting for the entire staff (and, no doubt, will be for visitors) but it was especially rewarding for those who spent so many hours preserving her. Elliott seemed to have tears in his eyes as he looked with pride up at the aircraft he is so familiar with – both in wartime and peace.

There was celebrating and relief as the permanent cables were attached and the temporary rigging removed but there was little time for that. There was still a UH-34D helicopter to be lifted into place for the new Vietnam tableau so Century and iWeiss were back the next day to begin that process.

With the SBD-3 and the UH-34D permanently in place, cast figures delivered and the ground form around the new tableau started, the Museum is approximately halfway through the work to be completed during the three-month closure.

“It’s been very busy here since the beginning of January, and there’s still much more to be done before April 1st, but we’ll be very excited to welcome visitors back. The new Vietnam-era tableau and the Dauntless will be the obvious changes, and we won’t be able to add the rotor blades to the UH-34 until after the construction demising wall comes down. And, there’s been so much more happening. We’ve begun upgrading all the lighting throughout the Museum with LED fixtures, a change that is not only ecologically sound but will also save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the coming years. We’re also repairing settlement cracks in the terrazzo flooring and adding some small improvements in some of the existing galleries,” Lin Ezell, NMMC Director, said. The building construction for the additional 115,000 square feet is ongoing with the first phase opening in 2017, but there won’t be any more closures. Visitors may hear the work going on but that will just get them excited to come back to see what was going on beyond the current walls.

The Museum is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. It is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway in Triangle, Virginia and is normally open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day. Admission and parking are free. For more information call 703-784-6107 or visit on the web at

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