By Lance Cpl. Liah Kitchen | 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Voices echoed through the old warehouse, bouncing off old, dusty military vehicles and aircraft in various states of restoration. Tucked away to the side of the warehouse rests a partially restored Douglas SBD-1 Dauntless dive bomber, thought to be the last surviving aircraft of its kind.
Robert Cramsie, a restoration volunteer with the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum and a board member of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, dedicated more than 2,500 hours since December 2012 to restoring the Dauntless, using only blueprints, salvaged parts and even fabricating parts by hand when needed. Cramsie is a former aircraft mechanic, who currently works at Northrop Grumman in San Diego as a production environmental test technician.
“When you start with a portion of the aircraft that is trashed and slowly build it piece by piece, seeing where you started versus where it is when you finish is the most rewarding part of this project for me,” Cramsie said.
Because of his outstanding volunteerism, Cramsie received the Northrop Grumman Excellence in Volunteerism Award from representatives of Northrop Grumman, Mission Systems, San Diego, during a ceremony at the Flying Leatherneck Museum Restoration Facility at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on April 21. Cramsie received one of 11 awards given worldwide by Northrop Grumman in 2017 for the hours spent restoring the Dauntless.
“Restoration projects like the Dauntless give members of the community the ability to come and experience a piece of history,” said Col. Jason Woodworth, commanding officer of MCAS Miramar. “People who come and volunteer here whether they have affiliation with the military or not, should be encouraged to continue their service because they allow everyone to get close to and touch pieces of our history.”
The Dauntless was recovered from Lake Michigan in 1995, where it crashed during a training flight in November 1942. The plane, which suffered extensive physical damage and corrosion, was shipped around the country before finally finding a home at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum to be restored.
“The aircraft was in sad shape,” explained Cramsie. “The wings were removed and set aside with the right wing slightly crushed and the left wing severely damaged, the vertical stabilizer was missing, the left leading edge of the inboard wing was crushed, the belly has holes punctured in it and the doors were missing.”
According to Cramsie, he plans to fully restore the Dauntless to a condition similar to when it came out of the factory in 1940, a process which may take many more years of work.
“Seeing the pieces come together is really what keeps me going,” said Cramsie. “The work that I’m doing, at the end of the day, is about giving a piece of history back to the museum and to the Marine Corps.”