Profile Publications No. 19 The Consolidated B-24J Liberator

B-24J o f the 15th Air Force photographed during a raid on 15th July 1944, against Ploesti, Rumania. The B-24J was the major model of a bomber produced in greater quantity than any other American military aircraft of the Second World War. First flown in 1939, the Consolidated 32 was a design in keeping with the general American concept of a heavy bomber at that time—fast, multi-engined, multi-place, moderate bomb capa­city, high altitude capability and good range. Consolidated had previously been principally con­cerned with the design and manufacture of large flying-boats and this, their first large landplane, brought some novel design features to the realm of the heavy bomber. Tricycle undercarriage was one, heralding a future trend and all the more impres­sive on the Model 32 because of the massive nature of the sideways retracting main wheels necessitated by the shoulder wing configuration. The nose wheel retracted forward and up, involving a rather com­plicated action by hinged members which were at first too delicate to withstand very heavy landings. Apart from better visibility afforded pilots in manoeuvring the bomber on the ground, the tricycle undercarriage in this instance also allowed the faster landing and take-off speeds demanded by the high wing loadings. The wing also was unusual, having high aspect ratio and low-drag aerofoil section. The bomb-bay doors were another depar­ture from convention. They were basically dural sheet with fitments to a sliding track running round the underside of the fuselage up towards the wing root. When operated the doors flexed to follow the contours of the fuselage section. Four neatly-cowled Pratt &Whitney Twin Wasp engines proved to abe prudent choice of power- plant, their reliability and durability were to be universally accepted by airmen. In the late nineteen- thirties, tailplanes were often the identifying marks of designers and Consolidated chose to furnish their bomber with large twin fins and rudders of similar shape to those fitted to their PB2Y Navy flying-boat. It was the general specification, regardless of the innovations, that attracted the attention of both U.S.A.A.C. and British military agencies, with the result that production anon unprecedented scale was ultimately undertaken. A manufacturing pool was officially established in February 1941 and justin over a year five major assembly plants were working on the bomber—U.S.A.A.F. designation B-24, and the name Liberator in that service and the Royal Air Force. THE EARLY LIBERATORS The initial production came from Consolidated^ own factory at San Diego, California, and these aircraft went mostly to the R.A.F. where they were used for various duties. U.S. warplanes of the 1940—1941 period were generally lacking in many items which the British considered imperative to success­ful combat operations. Armour, armament, self­ sealing fuel tanks and other equipment was, there­fore, forthcoming in the first war standard model, the B-24D, which began to roll off the San Diego production lines at an increasing rate early in 1942. Fords commenced production of an equivalent model at their giant Willow Run factory near Detroit (built especially for the task) during that year, while other versions came from Douglas at Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the new Consolidated-Vultee plant at Forth Worth, Texas. (The Consolidated and Vultce aircraft companies merged in March 1943 and later adopted the abbreviated trade name Convair. The B-24, however, continued to be generally referred to as a Consolidated product.) North American also manufactured B-24s com­mencing in March 1943. In war operations the B-24 showed great promise, its considerable range, in particular, made it highly valued for ocean patrol and anti-submarine work. As with most warplanes there was need of improve­ment to meet changes in tactical employment, and where the Liberator had come up against fighter opposition nose armament had been found wholly inadequate. The two hand-held -50 guns firing through apertures in the bomb aimer’s “conserva­ 3
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