The Crash of the XSB2D-1
January 10, 1946
Succeeding A Legend
The Douglas SBD "Dauntless" dive bomber was a small aircraft that was
slow, vulnerable, and already considered obsolete by some when it
entered service. Nevertheless, it spearheaded the early offensives in
the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The SBD, or "Slow But
Deadly", was a highly accurate dive-bomber and was given numerous
opportunities to prove its worth, especially during the Battle of
Midway, where Dauntless bombers sunk four Japanese carriers.
the time of the battle of Midway, Navy officials realized the advantages
and drawbacks of the Dauntless, and set forth to design a build a
replacement to their front-line dive bomber. Attempting to
compensate for the disadvantages of the Dauntless, the SB2D "Destroyer",
as it was called, would feature a Wright R-3350 radial engine, providing
a whopping 2400 horsepower, an inverted gull & laminar flow wing design,
remote controlled gun turrets,
half-inch machine guns armed with 800 rounds, mounted on both the top and bottom of the
craft, featured dive brakes, and a tricycle landing gear. It would carry two crew, a
pilot, and a gunner/observer, and carry two
Mark 13-1 torpedoes, or tow depth charges, to wrought further destruction upon
the Japanese Navy.
Two prototypes of the XSB2D-1 were built, assigned
the naval Bureau of Aeronautics numbers of 03551 and 03552.
Routine Flight Tests...
Part of aircraft test flight is the testing of the aircraft with different
equipment installed on it. On January 10th, 1946, five months after V-J
Day and the semi-official end of World War II (to the United States, the war did
not official end until December 31st, 1946!), test pilot George Cooper
was piloting 03551 using different propellers in a series of
maximum power ground runs and in-flight performance evaluation flights.
The information obtained was to be compared with wind tunnel test data obtained
in the 40 feet tall by 80 foot wide wind tunnel at the NACA facility near
|NACA pilot George Cooper
George Cooper's education was in
the engineering of mineral mines. A soft-spoken person, he got the taste
for flying during World War II, flying P-47s with the 412th Fighter Squadron in
Europe. After the war, his talents in the cockpit were recognized, and his
was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as
the head of the Flight Operation Brach of their Ames Aeronautical Laboratory.
In the "gunner" seat sat Welko Gasich. He was
responsible for gathering and reporting the results of these tests to NACA
officials, in order to compare alternative methods for calculating takeoff
ground run, a critical factor in the design of an airplane. Taking off,
the pair had no clue that this would be the final flight of this XSB2D-1.
An Eerie Quiet...
About 1,000 feet over Sunnyvale, the engine,
a Wright R-3350-14, caught fire. Low to the ground, and too far away from
the airfield to glide in for a power-off landing.
picked out a nearby orchard, filled with prune trees, for his emergency landing.
between a row of trees, Cooper recalled the wings cutting some 80, or more, trees at the
trunk as he ripped thorough. Near the end of the field, shortly before a cross
street, the airplane came to a stop. Neither Cooper or Gasich were injured
in the crash that tore the wings off of the plane.
A prune farmer, A. V. Schroeder, who owned the orchard,
witnessed the spectacle, and also knew Cooper. The pilot calmly exited the
cockpit and told him, "You keep asking me to drop in on you
sometime, so here I am."
An evaluation batch of thirteen SB2D-1s was
ordered by the Navy, and a n additional prototype was completed and flown.
A redesign of the plane removed the remotely-controlled gun barbettes, and the
second crewman. Yet another redesign resulted, and another prototype built
and flown in December of 1943.
The SD2B was never put into production. Many people nowadays do
not refer to it as the "Destroyer" as it was nicknamed as the time, but
rather as the "Turkey".
In later years, its naval designation was reassigned, and
was called the BTD-1.
However, knowledge gained from its design, construction, and
would see its way into a later aircraft of note, the AD-1 "Skyraider"
George Cooper continued flying with NACA, which became NASA in 1958.
Cooper's approach to flight testing forced a specific definition of the pilot's
task and of its performance standards. His study of flight led to his creation,
"The Cooper Pilot Opinion Rating Scale", which was initially published in 1957.
After several years of experience gained in its application to many flight
and simulator experiments and through its use by the military services and
aircraft industry, it was subsequently modified in collaboration with Robert
(Bob) Harper of the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory and became the Cooper-Harper
Handling Qualities Rating Scale in 1969. This rating scale has been one of the
enduring contributions of flying qualities research at Ames over the past 40
years; the scale remains as the standard way of measuring flying qualities to
this day. In recognition of his many contributions to aviation safety,
his retirement from NASA in 1972, Cooper planted wine grapes, and became a
winemaker. After several years of private production, he took the wine
venture commercial in 1994 as the Cooper-Garrod
Estate Vineyards, where he is today the winery manage and chief winemaker.
Welko Gasich retired from the Northrop Corporation in 1988 as
the Vice President of. He is often
credited with having the vision behind the conception and development of the
advanced supersonic trainer and international lightweight low-cost fighter
aircraft, the YF-23 "Black Widow".
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