Consolidated B-24 Liberator

(Page Two)

More Liberators were built in World War II than any other American plane, a total of 18,188 aircraft. Liberators had an intense operational career on all fronts and in different roles, from bombing to naval reconnaissance, antisubmarine warfare, and transport. But their major contribution was as bombers, especially in the Pacific. In three years of operations, they dropped 635,000 tons of bombs and downed 4,189 enemy planes. Although crews preferred the B-17 Flying Fortress because it was able to absorb more damage and still remain aloft, the Liberator proved to be an excellent and versatile warplane. Several companies in addition to Consolidated became involved in building Liberators. Of the total production, 1,694 were delivered directly to the Royal Air Force for service with Coastal Command and with Bomber Command.

Preliminary study was begun early in 1939, when the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation was asked by USAAC authorities to develop a new heavy bomber that would be more modern and would provide higher performance in speed, range, and altitude than the Boeing B-17, which was already in production. Consolidated's head designer, Isaac M. Laddon, settled on a high-wing monoplane configuration with twin tail tins and rudders. But the wing system was certainly the most original and advanced feature of the plane. Recently Consolidated had begun using the Davis patents for laminar contours that were extremely aerodynamic, and these patents were also used for the new project. The Liberator's wings were very long, which increased its cargo capacity, improved its ascent characteristics, and gave it greater range. On March 30, 1939, a contract was signed to build a full-size model and a prototype. The prototype first took to the air on December 29. The new bomber had a deep fuselage and a large bomb hold with sliding hatches. Unusual was the three-wheel forward landing gear, with the principal wheels retracting horizontally into the wings. The engines, housed in aerodynamic nacelles, were originally four Pratt & Whitney R-1830-33s with two-stage mechanical superchargers. Pratt & Whitneys continued to be used in subsequent models, but with turbosuperchargers driven by exhaust gas.

Seven pre-series planes were built, and in 1940 a first order for 36 planes was received. Only nine of these were built, and the rest were produced as B-24Cs. The B-24C had Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines with turbosuperchargers, and structural modifications therefore had to be made to the motor housings. The armament was also increased. The first important version, however, was the B-24D, for which big orders were received in 1940. Further orders the following year brought the total up to 2,738 planes, and production facilities had to be amplified. Consolidated built B-24s at San Diego and then added a second assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas. Beginning with the D model and continuing with later versions, Douglas, Ford, and North American also built B-24s.

The B-24D was the first Liberator to go into combat, in April, 1942. Most of the Liberator's early combat career centered on the Middle East and the Pacific. The next version was the B-24E, which had different engines and propellers. Then came the B-24G. Beginning with the 26th B-24G, a substantial modification was introduced. A mechanically controlled forward turret was installed, and this provided additional defense from frontal attack, to which the plane had been particularly vulnerable.

The new armament was standard in subsequent versions. A total of 3,100 B-24Hs were produced by Consolidated, Douglas, and Ford. There were some differences in equipment. In 1943 the largest production model appeared. This was the B-24J, with new controls for the engines, a new sighting system, and changes in the fuel and feeding systems. The final versions, the B-24L and B-24M, had improvements in armament. By May 31, 1945, a total of 1,667 Ls and 2,593 Ms had been built. Among the more important experimental and derived models were the F-7, for photographic reconnaissance; the C-7 transport; the AT-22, a flying classroom for navigator training; and the C-109, for transport and fuel supply. The Liberator XB-41, a modified B-24D carrying fourteen 12.7-mm. machine guns and intended for service as a heavy fighter escort for bombers, never got beyond the prototype stage.


(Source: Enzo Angelucci & Paolo Matricardi, in "World War II Airplanes, Volume 2)

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