Michael Fetyko of Laguna Beach, California, won first place in the Pro Am Sport Prop class at the recent Top Gun scale Invitational with his amazing 1/4-scale Douglas SBD Dauntless. Michael also earned the Best WW II award.
Michael teamed up with his lead engineer for the project, Henry Nguyen and built the dive bomber from Jerry Bates plans. The Dauntless has a 124-inch wingspan, is 100 inches long and weighs in at 90 pounds. Powered by a Moki 300 radial gas engine turning a 32×18 propeller, the Dauntless is equipped with Scale Sierra landing gear and has a detailed cockpit interior using Dynamic Balsa parts. Michael controlled the beautiful SBD with his Futaba 18MZ radio system, and flew his SBD to a final score of 120.000.
We had a chance to catch up with Michael and asked him about his backstory. Here’s what he had to say.
Model Airplane News: Congratulations on your first place win in the Sport Prop class. Tell us what inspired you to choose the Dauntless for your project.
Michael Fetyko: I have always admired the beautiful lines of the SBD Dauntless. The aft gunner, the countless rivets and rugged construction along with the iconic dive brakes and trapeze dive bomb release made for a captivating project that I have dreamed of building since the first day I discovered this aircraft as a young boy growing up. The history behind this aircraft and the pilots who flew the Dauntless inspired me to build a giant scale version as a tribute to aviation achievement at that time in history.
The SBD was the only U.S. combat aircraft to fight from the beginning of the World War II until the end. It was considered the most destructive air weapon of the U.S. Navy and sank over 300,000 tons of enemy ships. Where the Japanese inflicted heavy damage at Pearl Harbor with the B5N3 Kate torpedo bomber, the SBD Dauntless leveled the playing field with its powerful dive-bombing capability. This advantage proved invaluable contributing to U.S. victory during the Battle of Midway where SBD dive bombers attacked and sank or fatally damaged all four Japanese fleet carriers present. SBDs also played a major role in the Guadalcanal Campaign.
Model Airplane News: How long did the project take? Who was involved?
Michael Fetyko: The Dauntless project started in 2017 with multiple builders contributing along the way during the frame up stage including Pedro Sanchez and Constantine DeBock. Henry Nguyen was able to take over the rough build in early 2020 and really brought it to life with museum scale quality detailing and structural engineering to create a functional flying model. We were inspired by the Commemorative Air Force “Lady in Blue” full scale SBD that resides out in Peachtree Georgia and performs in airshows regularly today and we selected that scheme to work with.
Model Airplane News: What about under the “hood”? How does it perform?
Michael Fetyko: The model flies very well and scale like with the Moki 300cc five-cylinder radial engine. Coming in at over 80 pounds, energy management is key during flight operations. The dive brakes prove beneficial in steep decent for dive bomb runs which helps prevent over-speeding engine rpm.
Model Airplane News: Tell us about the construction?
Michael Fetyko: Being a Jerry Bates design, it is your typical giant scale airplane, it has balsa, light ply and plywood construction. The airframe was covered and finished with fiberglass cloth and Pacer finishing resin. We took care in constructing the dive brakes using carbon fiber for both strength and light wight. Aluminum hinges keep the control surfaces working smoothly during the maneuvers and are holding up nicely. We used 4-40 size control rods with carbon-fiber sleeves and heavy duty linkages to support safe and reliable long term flight performance. We hope to be flying this model for many years to come.
Model Airplane News: Your finish is amazing. Tell us about it. What paint did you use?
Michael Fetyko: For scale detailing we incorporated a raised panel technique to simulate aircraft skin realism, being careful not to add too much weight in the process but finishing the skin with noticeable contrast. And then there were the rivets. There is no way around this arduous process but to set aside plenty of time and just enjoy the experience taking things in manageable sections. We used canopy glue and laid out thousands of tiny rivets by hand and when completed the model took on a whole new level of realism.
For paint we chose Klass Kote as their military FS scale color matching works perfectly and the two-part epoxy formula really holds up over time in the elements. When selecting satin paint there is still an opportunity to work the finish for realism and this is where #0000 fine steel wool comes in. This is a labor of love process that take several evenings and required lots of patience. With the raised rivets aircraft skin this process can be slow going but is well worth the effort. Having movies on in the background helps pass the time and I found the evening work sessions to be enjoyable when we took those finishing steps in short manageable stages.
Model Airplane News: What about the landing gear?
Michael Fetyko: We worked with Darrell Tenney at Sierra Giants to configure this model with high quality landing gear. Darrell produced a perfect set of gear for us and they not only present beautifully being very close to scale, but also work perfectly.
Model Airplane News: The Dauntless looks amazing inside and out. How’d you do it?
Michael Fetyko: One of the most important objectives for this project was to construct a high-quality cockpit. I reached out to Brian Brucar at Dynamic Balsa and shared the vision for this project and he was very supportive. Brian produced dozens of high-quality cockpit components for this project and provides a very nice photo instruction guide to assist with assembly. He has made the kit available for anyone who would like to build a similar model.
Model Airplane News: You and your team certainly did an amazing job. Do you have any advice for someone considering building a Jerry Bates Dauntless?
Michael Fetyko: This model can be overwhelming in size in the workshop and requires plenty of space to assemble. I recall the moment we did the final assembly with the paint and markings completed and cockpit installed. We all stepped back and the feeling of accomplishment is indescribable. A happy moment to cherish for a lifetime. There are so many aspects of the SBD and they all seem to blend together in a rugged sort of beauty that contributes to its remarkable appearance when fully assembled.
Model Airplane News: Do you have any future plans for the Dauntless?
Michael Fetyko: With our relationship with Warbirds West we have a mission to honor military aviation. Each year we produce a reenactment of the Battle of Midway in our annual airshow at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in Hawaii, so having a giant scale SBD Dauntless to perform with was an important goal that we set early on. Being able to campaign the Dauntless at Top Gun this year was very special being inspired with the theatrical release of the movie Midway.
We are also preparing a virtual reality Battle of Midway video game experience to compliment the model aircraft performance at flying events and will be campaigning this in 2021 across the U.S. and also at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Visitors will be able to experience the Battle of Midway in immersive Virtual Reality from the deck of the Japanese Akagi aircraft carrier and also fly in a SBD Dauntless and perform dive bomb runs to see if they can hit the target.
Model Airplane News: Wow! That’s very ambitious. Your project is very inspiring.
Michael Fetyko: Yes indeed. One can only imagine what it must have been like on the deck of the USS Enterprise back in June 1942. With radios that worked intermittently, and only primitive navigation tools, brave U.S. pilots flew hundreds of miles over the ocean to find enemy targets and then courageously dove head first into battle putting it all on the line. And the Dauntless delivered on its promise at Midway where the war in the Pacific reached a turning point and the momentum shifted in our favor. All this history drives our inspiration with this giant scale SBD Dauntless.
By Gerry Yarrish | Photos by Michael Fetyko, David Hart & Sean Curry