When our rare Douglas SBD-4 Dauntless flew for the public Saturday during a presentation at the museum about the historic World War II Battle of Midway, Alan Wojciak was at the controls.
The Dauntless, which played a significant role in the battle, is “a very straight-forward” airplane, said Wojciak, a museum volunteer and pilot.
“It’s really not a very complicated airplane,” he said in an interview before the public flight. “It’s very straight-forward. I would say it’s very similar” to the North American T-6, or SNJ, trainer. The plane’s systems also are straight-forward, he said. To lower the landing gear in an emergency, for instance, the pilot just lowers the gear handle and the gear drops. The tail wheel is fixed in the “down” position.
After the Midway presentation by docent John Lynch, Wojciak did a walk-around of the Dauntless, describing the routine to visitors as he went. The idea, he said, was basically to make sure the airplane is safe to fly. Among other things, he checked oil and fuel levels, made sure the flight controls were properly rigged, and that the brakes were in working order.
The -4 Dauntless has a 1,000-horsepower engine, 200 hp less than that of the -5 variant. This may not sound like much, Wojciak said, but at the Colorado Springs airport elevation of about 6,000 feet above sea level, it makes a difference. The takeoff roll, for instance, is about 2,000 feet. But, he said, the Dauntless was designed to fly from aircraft carriers which, of course, operate at sea level.
An added consideration at this airport is the fact that the runway closest to the Museum is under repair and therefore temporarily closed. This meant that Wojciak had to taxi to another runway, which took a bit more time and put a little extra wear on the airplane’s engine and brakes. As a tail-wheel airplane with less visibility over the nose, regular small turns were required to be sure the way ahead was clear.
Discussions before the flight with airport officials determined just where Wojciak was permitted to fly once he took off.
After making several passes, landing and taxiing back to the museum, he answered questions from visitors about the airplane and his flight.
Wojciak will fly the Museum’s P-47 Thunderbolt in another special presentation on Saturday, July 17. This one will be about the World War II Battle for France.