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Consolidated B-24x "Liberator"

Although the Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" never achieved the popularity of its companion and rival, the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress", it nevertheless made a significant contribution to the war effort during World War II.  The B-24 "Liberator" was produced in greater number than any other American combat plane in the war.  In all, 18,188 were produced prior to May 31, 1945 when the last B-24N rolled off the assembly line..  By comparison with the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" (12,731 built) and the Avro Lancaster (7,366 built) the "quantitative" importance of the aircraft can best be recognized.  The B-24 was used extensively on all fronts and with its long range proved to be versatile in the roles of bomber, transport, naval reconnaissance, and antisubmarine attack.  The B-24 was used primarily by American units, but also by the British RAF (the second largest user with 1,694 aircraft), Australian, Canadian, and South African air forces.  The B-24 was more complex, more demanding and could fly faster and further than the B-17.  Due in large part to this, it served in larger numbers in the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.

The B-24 project was launched by Consolidated in January 1939, on the basis of a request from the USAAC for a new heavy bomber, with performance that would be superior to that of the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress".  The new bombers main characteristic had to be its long range in order to satisfy the USAAC specifications.  Consolidated's chief designer Isaac M. Laddon, building upon his previous experience with the design of the Consolidated PBY "Catalina", was just the man for the job.  He created a wing with, for the time, advanced features which was lengthened and provided with Davis laminar contours, around which the rest of the plane was constructed.  The aircraft was a high winged monoplane with twin tail fins and rudders, tricycle landing gear, and four Pratt & Whitney R-1830-33 engines with two-stage mechanical superchargers.  The fuselage, which was very high, had sliding hatches that notably reduced the aircrafts drag.

On March 30th, 1939 a contract was signed to build a model and prototype.  Nine months later, on December 29, 1939, the XB-24 made its first flight from Lindbergh Field in San Diego, CA.  In the meantime, seven YB-24 and 36 B-24'A were ordered for the initial production run.  An order from France for 175 aircraft was placed, but diverted to Britain with an additional 165 aircraft due to the outbreak of war.  As they had done with the Consolidated PBY "Catalina", the British gave the Consolidated B-24 its name of the "Liberator".  The first B-24's to be delivered to Britain took to the air on January 17, 1941.

In the meantime, the XB-24 prototype was undergoing some changes to the XB-24B model.  The defensive armament was increased, and the superchargers were now operated by exhaust gas instead of the manual ones on the first model.  Nine production models of this type were produced with the designation B-24C.  From this model was derived the B-24D, for which huge orders were issued during 1940, in total 2,738 aircraft.  In order to meet demand, other manufacturers became involved and included Douglas, Ford and North American.  The B-24D's were designated the Liberator Mk. III by the RAF and the PB4Y-1 by the U.S Navy.  The next version, the B-24E's were the first produced by Ford and were basically the same as the " D" with a few minor changes in propeller and other details.

The growth in demand continued and led to further development in the B-24.  The North American plant in Dallas was entrusted with the next variant, the "G".  The B-24G had a new mechanically controlled turret in the nose which help defend the B-24 from frontal attacks.  In order to accommodate the gun and ammunition required the fuselage was lengthened by 8 inches (25 cm).

There were further changes made to the B-24 including the "H" model with a different front turret (3,100 built), the "J" with the largest production run of 6,678 built and the "L" (1,677 built), "M" (2,593 built) and "N" for which orders were canceled on May 31, 1945.  Despite the importance of the B-24 to the war effort, these great aircraft were declared surplus at the end of the war, and only a few remained in service until 1953.


Created: Friday, March 01, 1996  Last Updated: Tuesday October 15, 1996