LOOKING FOR A GREAT-FLYING, fantastic-looking warbird? The ESM Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless is a highly detailed and quality model throughout. Scale panel lines and rivets details are already molded into the fiberglass fuselage. The wings are typical built-up construction and expertly covered in Solartex. The entire plane is professionally painted with high-quality enamel paint. The decals are applied and then, for protection, the entire plane is covered with a factory clearcoat. The plane also comes with fully functioning split flaps and all the necessary hardware. ESM also offers optional air retracts and pilots for this plane. This plane is modeled after an SBD Dauntless, assigned to group VB-16, which operated from the USS Lexington in November 1943.


The flight surfaces come hinged, with flatpin hinges for the flaps, cloth CA hinges for the ailerons, and pin hinges for the rudder. Take your time to align them before you glue them in. The flight surfaces for the tail feathers are operated by pull-pull wires inside the fuselage. This is a very secure method and leaves the plane with a clean scale look. The split flaps are operated by internal control horns and work in a scale manner. The ailerons are operated by typical external control horns.

The plane comes with fixed landing gear, but ESM offers optional air-operated retracts with a matching tailwheel. The set includes beautifully machined aluminum wheels with rubber tires, working aluminum struts, hinged gear doors, a retract valve, air-line tubing with fittings and an air canister. When properly installed, these retracts work fantastic, soak up the not-so-perfect landings and really add to the scale look of the plane. I highly recommend the retracts;they are a fantastic value. (As of 2014 Electric Retracts have replaced the air operated retracts. We do offer Air operated retracts by Sierra and Century Jet as well as electric retracts by ESM, CENTURY JET as well).

I used a 1.20 4-stroke Saito engine in the Dauntless. The instruction manual shows two ways to mount the 4-stroke, sideways or inverted. I chose the latter because I wanted a cleaner look. I had to modify the fuselage for muffler clearance and the result looks great. I added a Ram on-board igniter (ramrcandramtrack.com) to ease in starting the plane and to ensure a reliable idle. I drilled a small hole in the prein-stalled cockpit gauge panel and secured the on-board igniter’s indicator light in the hole. Now, whenever the igniter is on, the pilot and cockpit are illuminated.


  • Model: ESM Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless 
  • Distributor: VQ WARBIRDS (as of Sept 2015)  www.vqwarbirds.com
  • Type: scale WW II fighter
  • Length: 55 in.
  • Wingspan: 71 in.
  • Wing area: 821 sq. in.
  • Wing loading: 38.4 oz. /sq. ft.
  • Flying weight: 13.71 lb.
  • Radio req’d: 6-channel and 9 standard servos
  • Engine req’d: 1.20 4-stroke, 1.08 2-stroke or 26-32cc gas


  • Impressive scale appearance and quality finish
  • Excellent flight performance and easy to fly
  • Complete hardware package and optional quality retracts

There are many molded fiberglass and Lexan parts to trim and install. They include the belly pan with bomb, wheel wells, and canopy. I found the Lexan parts to be brittle and elected to use a hot knife (instead of scissors) to trim them. The fiberglass cowl is mounted to the fuselage using the provided plywood cowl ring and four screws. After I was happy with the fit, I tack-glued the cowl and ring together. I then removed the cowl and ring and joined them together with fiberglass cloth saturated with finishing epoxy. This technique ensures a strong, neat, and permanent bond. I then drilled eight holes in the ring to allow hot air to escape from inside the cowl. For looks, I finished off the inside of the cowl with black semi-gloss enamel paint. The final fiberglass piece is the tailwheel hatch. It is secured with the six provided screws and is a perfect fit. All the measurements in the instruction manual, as well as the provided hardware pack, are metric. ESM also provides two metric Allen wrenches with the hardware pack.

In the Air

When fitted with the optional retracts, the Dauntless will comfortably take off and land on any field suited for a plane of this size (I recommend a runway of 300 feet or more). The struts (included with the retracts) and the big rubber tires help to soak up any bumps in the runway as well as the not-so-perfect landings. The Dauntless taxies very well with the application of up-elevator to hold down the tailwheel. On takeoff, a generous application of right rudder is needed to overcome torque steer and keep the plane tracking straight down the runway. The Dauntless showed no tendency to nose over during takeoff. Upon landing, keep the nose down and fly it to the ground while backing off the throttle. The plane will comfortably bleed off the airspeed and settle smoothly onto its main wheels. Remember to steer with the rudder and use the elevator to keep the plane level until the tailwheel wants to settle to the ground. With no headwind, the Dauntless will want to glide quite a long way down the runway. It will slow down a tiny bit faster if the center flap is deployed. Warning: Do not use the split-flaps to land, as airspeed and control is greatly reduced.


Stability: The Dauntless is as easy and relaxing to fly as your favorite .60-size trainer. One of my favorite moves from a high altitude is to cut the throttle back to almost an idle and then roll over into a dive. I simultaneously deploy the split flaps and the Dauntless appears to just “hang in the air” as I make an imaginary dive-bombing run on my target.

Tracking: The Dauntless goes exactly where you point it. It did not wander or show any other bad tendencies-this is a solid machine!

Aerobatics: It can easily perform all the basic aerobatic maneuvers warbirds are known for like barrel rolls, split-Ss, Immelmanns and wingovers. The first time I tried to perform a big loop with the Dauntless from level flight, it stalled out at the top of the loop. Recovery from the stall was quick without much loss in elevation. The second time, I maintained the same æ throttle setting and level flight, and I started the loop with a shallow dive. This time, the Dauntless completed t
he loop in textbook style.

Glide and stall performance: The Dauntless lands effortlessly with or without the center flap. At the stall, it simply drops its nose and then resumes flying again once it picks up adequate airspeed. This plane will also slow down to an agonizing crawl in turns without showing any signs of snapping out.


The ESM SBD-5 Dauntless is a winner. It is a great-flying airplane that will attract a lot of positive attention anywhere it goes. The Saito 1.20 4-stroke that I used sounded fantastic and provided plenty of power for the plane.



  • Elevator: ± 1 in., 25% expo
  • Ailerons: ± 1 º in., 25% expo
  • Rudder: ± 1 º in., no expo
  • Center flap: ± 1 Ω in.
  • Split flap: ± 1 Ω in.

The three-piece wing is epoxied together with a plywood joiner spar. To ensure a straight wing, there are two alignment pins in each wing section that you install using the provided plywood template. The vertical stabilizer is already molded into the fuselage. The horizontal stabilizer halves are secured to the fuselage utilizing the provided aluminum stab joiner. Again, a plywood template is provided to ensure that you properly install the two alignment dowels. Take your time and test-fit everything a couple of times and you’ll end up with a great plane. This is a very complex model and I would recommend it for seasoned builders. It took me approximately 25 hours to complete the model and it was worth every minute.

I modified the firewall to accommodate the stock muffler on the Saito 120 4-stroke.
Removing the wing allows easy access to all of the components in the fuselage.
Prepping the Dauntless for flight is a breeze with a solid field stand and a helping hand.

Slow But Deadly

The Douglas SBD Dauntless was used by the United States Navy as its main dive-bomber from 1940 until the end of 1943. It was replaced with the new SBD2C Helldiver. The Dauntless was equipped with two .50 caliber machine guns in each wing, two in the rear gunner position and was powered by an 1100hp Wright Cyclone Engine. This aircraft was instrumental to winning the war in the Pacific. The Dauntless saw its first major engagement at the Battle of the Coral Sea where it was credited for sinking the Japanese carrier the INS Shoho. The Dauntless also doubled as a fighter, protecting the USS Yorktown and the USS Lexington against Japanese torpedo bombers. At the Battle of Midway, the Dauntless was credited for sinking four Japanese carriers and two heavy cruisers. It was responsible for sinking more Japanese ships than any other aircraft and also has the distinction of finishing the war with more aerial kills than losses, a surprising fact for a dive-bomber.


The Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless is another high-quality scale model from ESM. I have built and flown many admirable warbirds and the Dauntless has surpassed them all. It is well-engineered, the parts fit together perfectly and its scale finish is beautiful. The Dauntless is easy to transport and sets up quickly at the flying field. Unlike most war-birds, the Dauntless is as comfortable to fly as a trainer. I highly recommend it as your next fighter.

Original Article available at Model Airplane News