The Curtiss SBC Helldiver holds two places in naval aviation history: First, it initially flew as a monoplane but was produced as a biplane, and, second, it was the last biplane combat aircraft procured by the United States.1 While not unique, the SBC also had one of the most convoluted development histories of a military aircraft.
Curtiss—a leader in aircraft development for the Army and Navy in the 1920s and 1930s—produced a prototype monoplane two-seat fighter for the Navy in 1932 with the designation XF12C-1. The aircraft was in part a “navalized” version of the Army’s O-40 Raven reconnaissance plane, featuring a high-mounted parasol wing and fully retractable landing gear. The structure was all metal except for fabric covering the movable control surfaces and the flaps. And, being intended for carrier operation, the naval aircraft had a strengthened fuselage, backward-folding wings, and arresting hook.2