Only six years after Devil Dogs of the Air, Dive Bomber provides a another snapshot of Naval aviation in San Diego, shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack. All the warplanes featured in Dive Bomber were introduced in those six years, and most would soon be obsolete!
Dive Bomber stars Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray, respectively, as a feuding Navy surgeon and pilot. As I did last week for Test Pilot, I’ll refer you to TCM for the overall plot synopsis. For an emphatic cultural perspective, look here. For myself, I found the Technicolor record of Naval aircraft in their bright prewar livery far more interesting than the story. Contrarily, I have the most to say about planes that don’t belong!
The comedic highlight of the film is the appearance on base of a Ryan STA sport monoplane, in disguise! Flown in for a visit by an ex-Navy pilot, the STA represents a fictional RAF-bound fighter being ferried (with a detour) from Los Angeles to Canada. The plane’s disguise consists of RAF-style camouflage, a covered front cockpit, and a cobbled-on radial engine cowl. (See my sketch above.) The transformation might be convincing, except the prop shaft is off center!
From a historical viewpoint, it’s hard to imagine what actual plane the Ryan was supposed to represent. As far as I can tell, the only RAF-bound fighter being built on the West coast was the North American P-51 Mustang, for which this “fighter” is no better a stand-in than a stock Ryan STA would be.
By coincidence, a painted but otherwise unaltered Ryan STA would look a bit like a Miles M.20, a simple but capable British fighter that could have been built quickly if there were a shortage of Spitfires and Hurricanes. No shortage occurred, so the M.20 never entered production.
Maybe the idea of the disguised STA was to make the movie’s “RAF fighter” look as unlike any such thing as possible, for wartime security. Or maybe the radial cowl was simply a way to make the short-nosed STA look more powerful than it really is; or just less obviously a Ryan STA. I guess the illusion might have worked for moviegoers at the time, but I bet it prompted some grins even then.
For the record, here’s the full list of airplanes I saw in this movie (more or less in order of appearance):
- Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber; parked and flying in many scenes.
- Vought SB2U Vindicator dive bomber; parked and flying in many scenes, including closeups. Two “flight test” scenes show landing gear retracts operating.
- Brewster F2A Buffalo single-seat fighter; several seen briefly on a carrier deck. Later a flight of three takes off from San Diego NAS.
- Curtiss SBC Helldiver two-seat biplane scout bomber; parked and flying in several scenes.
- Northrop BT-1 torpedo bomber; only three that I could see, but shown prominently in two scenes, one central to the ending ceremony.
- Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Canary biplane trainer; many parked and flying. Flynn’s first training scene shows use of a hand-cranked inertial starter.
- North American SNJ Texan monoplane trainer; mostly parked in the background.
- Grumman F3F biplane fighter; parked and flying in many scenes, including an extended “flight test” sequence.
- Link Trainer ANT-18 flight simulator; not a plane, but interesting. We get a good look at the “yaw bellows” and a glance at the instructor’s station.
- Curtiss SOC Seagull scout-observation biplane, surprisingly pretty in its wheeled version; we see one parked after Flynn tests a pressure belt.
- Ryan STA sport monoplane; good landing and takeoff scenes. Disguised as a fictional “RAF fighter.”
- Consolidated PBY Catalina twin-engined amphibian; a picturesque row of five parked in the sunset.
- Lockheed Model 10 Electra twin-engined transport; extended “flight test” sequence with external and (probably mock) internal views.
- Consolidated PB2Y Coronado four-engined flying boat patrol bomber; briefly seen high up in the finale’s aerial montage.
Next monday: more about the Model 10 Electra and the Northrop BT-1.
Tags: aircraft ferry service, ANT-18, Brewster F2A Buffalo, Consoliated PBY Catalina, Consolidated PB2Y Coronado, Curtiss SBC Helldiver, Curtiss SOC Seagull, Devil Dogs of the Air movie, Dive Bomber movie, Douglas TBD Devastator, Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Grumman F3F, Link Trainer, Lockheed Model 10 Electra, Miles M.20, movies, Mustang, N3N Canary, Naval air station, North American SNJ Texan, Northrop BT-1, P-51, radial cowl, RAF fighter, Ryan STA, San Diego, Technicolor, Vought SB2U Vindicator, World War II