Why am I such a fan? I am a member of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) based in Dallas Texas, USA. I am the current Executive Officer (XO) of the West Texas Wing, one of the early Wings of the CAF. We are the care-takers and operators of the only flying SB2C-5 Helldiver in the World. CAF members pay to be volunteers of the CAF. The only paid positions are at the very top at Headquarters.
Our typical year of operation runs from mid-February through mid-October. Starting with an annual maintenance session where we inspect all the important aspects of the plane from control systems to the most important driving force, the engine. In the past 4 years, we have replaced 4 cylinder heads and pistons on the Wright Cyclone 1,900 hp (1,417 kW) R-2600-20 radial engine. The last time the engine experienced a full rebuild was over 20 years ago. This year we had minor issues any only had to replace two cylinder heads. She was back running at top performance in mid-march. After a few hours of flying the plane, she was cleared for active service.
In mid-June, our Chief Pilot was taking the plane on a rather long journey from Texas to the East coast for re-qualify with the USN Navy Legacy Program. This would guarantee a contract with the USN for the next 5 years. Meaning, if we were contract to an Airshow where a USN Demo team was present, we would be compensated to fly a routine with a current USN Tactical Plane. One of the biggest financial gains we experience in keeping the plane flying. Our main source of funding is from Airshow contracts and individuals purchasing a 45 minute flight experience to sit in the back Gunner/Radio Operator’s seat.
On the way to South Carolina, the pilot experience an unusual use of oil. The beast was burning a lot more oil than usual for a radial engine, we are talking gallons of oil per hour. He landed, inspected the plane not noticing anything unusual on the exterior or inside the cowling and contacted the Wing. We had to source replacement oil that would allow him to continue with the mission and determine if we should abort. No abnormal engine responses were experienced so the mission was a go. He successfully obtained oil and completed the check out with an F-18. The following day on the return to base flight, mid-way he experience a severely rough engine and aborted, landing at a nearby airport. The bottom of the fuselage was covered in oil.
It was determined that the plane would not be capable of returning to base. A cylinder was leaking and a plug became fouled causing a pre/post detonation blowing a hole in a cylinder.
The engine now has to be re-built at a cost of $60,000 to $70,000 USD. Luckily, we have most of that in our engine account, but it means our back-up plan and will be expended.
We are in the process of starting a Fund Raising project on the internet. If you are interested in giving to support the World’s only flying Helldiver, The Beast. Please message me an email address or find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pg/sb2chelldiver/posts/?ref=notif. We will be posting more information there.
Here are a few images of the current engine tear down process. I will post more when available.
11 additional images. Click to enlarge.