Consolidated B-24 Liberator

Walter Colvin

Showlow, United States

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3d fine art render of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator Bomber.
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The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the company as the Model 32, and a small number of early models were sold under the name LB-30, for Land Bomber. The B-24 was used in World War II by several Allied air forces and navies, and by every branch of the American armed forces during the war, attaining a distinguished war record with its operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theaters.

Often compared with the better-known Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 was a more modern design with a higher top speed, greater range, and a heavier bomb load; however, it was also more difficult to fly, with heavy control forces and poor formation-flying characteristics. Popular opinion among aircrews and general staffs tended to favor the B-17’s rugged qualities above all other considerations in the European Theater. The placement of the B-24’s fuel tanks throughout the upper fuselage and its lightweight construction, designed to increase range and optimize assembly line production, made the aircraft vulnerable to battle damage.The B-24 was notorious among American aircrews for its tendency to catch fire. Moreover, its high fuselage-mounted “Davis wing” also meant it was dangerous to ditch or belly land, since the fuselage tended to break apart. Nevertheless, the B-24 provided excellent service in a variety of roles thanks to its large payload and long range and was the only bomber to operationally deploy the United States’ first forerunner to precision-guided munitions during the war, the 1,000 lb. Azon guided bomb.

The B-24’s most infamous mission was the low-level strike against the Ploiești oil fields, in Romania on 1 August 1943, which turned into a disaster because the enemy was underestimated, fully alerted and attackers disorganized.

The B-24 ended World War II as the most produced heavy bomber in history. At over 18,400 units, half by Ford Motor Company, it still holds the distinction as the most-produced American military aircraft.

The Liberator originated from a United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) request in 1938 for Consolidated to produce the B-17 under license. After company executives including President Reuben Fleet visited the Boeing factory in Seattle, Washington, Consolidated decided instead to submit a more modern design of its own.

The new Model 32 combined the Davis wing, a high-efficiency airfoil design created by unorthodox means by a lone inventor named David Davis,8 with the twin tail design from the Consolidated Model 31 flying boat, both mated together on a new fuselage. This new fuselage was intentionally designed around the twin bomb bays, each one being the same size and capacity of the B-17.

In January 1939, the USAAC, under Specification C-212, formally invited Consolidated9 to submit a design study for a bomber with longer range, higher speed, and greater ceiling than the B-17. The specification was written such that the Model 32 would automatically be the winning design. The program was run under the umbrella group running “Project A”, an Air Corps requirement for an intercontinental bomber that had been conceived in the mid-1930s. Although the B-24 did not meet Project A goals, it was a step in that direction. Project A led to the development of the Boeing B-29 and Consolidated’s own B-32 and B-36.

The contract for a prototype was awarded in March 1939, with the requirement that one should be ready before the end of the year. The design was simple in concept but nevertheless advanced for its time. Compared to the B-17, the proposed Model 32 had a shorter fuselage and 25% less wing area, but had a 6 ft (1.8 m) greater wingspan and a substantially larger carrying capacity, as well as a distinctive twin tail. Whereas the B-17 used 9-cylinder Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines, the Consolidated design used twin-row, 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830 “Twin Wasp” radials of 1,000 hp (746 kW). The 70,547 lb (32,000 kg) maximum takeoff weight was one of the highest of the period. Consolidated incorporated innovative features: the new design would be the first American bomber to use tricycle landing gear, and it had long, thin wings with the efficient “Davis” high aspect ratio design (also used on the projected Model 31 twin-engined commercial flying boat) promising to provide maximum fuel efficiency. Wind tunnel testing and experimental programs using an existing Consolidated Model 31 provided extensive data on the flight characteristics of the Davis airfoil.

Early orders—placed before the XB-24 had flown—included 36 for the USAAC, 120 for the French Armée de l’Air and 164 for the Royal Air Force (RAF). The name “Liberator” was originally assigned to it by the RAF, and subsequently adopted by the USAAF as the official name for the type. When France fell in 1940, their aircraft were re-directed to the RAF.

Mass production was brought into full force by 1943 with the aid of the Ford Motor Company through its newly constructed Willow Run facility, where peak production had reached one B-24 per hour and 650 per month in 1944. Other factories soon followed.

Consolidated finished the prototype, by then known as the XB-24, and had it ready for its first flight two days before the end of 1939. After initial testing, the XB-24 was found to be deficient in several areas. One major failure of the prototype was that it failed to meet the top speed requirements specified in the contract. As built, the XB-24 top speed was only 273 mph instead of the specified 311 mph. As a result, the mechanically supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-1830-33s were replaced with the turbo-supercharged R-1830s. Additionally, the tail span was widened by 2 feet (0.61 m) and the pitot-static probes were relocated from the wings to the fuselage. The XB-24 was then re-designated XB-24B—these changes became standard on all B-24’s built starting with the B-24C model.

The USAAC initially ordered seven YB-24s under CAC contract # 12464 in April 1939, but like the prototype these aircraft were being built by hand and were not considered combat ready. The first six YB-24 were released for direct purchase under CAC contract # F-677 on 9 November 1940. These aircraft were redesignated LB-30A. The seventh aircraft was used by Consolidated and the USAAC to test armor installations as well as self-sealing fuel tanks. Initially, these aircraft were to be given USAAC serials 39-681 to 39-687. Due to delays with the actual purchase, however, the serial numbers were changed to 40-696 to 40-702. When the RAF purchased the first 6 YB-24 aircraft, the serial numbers were reassigned to a later block of B-24Ds.

The B-24’s spacious, slab-sided fuselage (which earned the aircraft the nickname “Flying Boxcar”) was built around a central bomb bay that could accommodate up to 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) of ordnance in each of its forward and aft compartments. The equal-capacity forward and aft bomb bay compartments were further split longitudinally with a centerline ventral catwalk just nine inches (23 cm) wide, which also functioned as the fuselage’s structural keel beam. The occasional need for crewmen to move around inside from fore to aft within the B-24’s fuselage during a mission caused widespread complaints concerning the extremely narrow catwalk. The B-24 was sometimes disparaged as “The Flying Coffin” because the only entry and exit from the bomber was in the rear and it was almost impossible for the flight crew and nose gunner to get from the flight deck to the rear when wearing parachutes. An unusual set of tambour-panel “roller-type” bomb bay doors, which operated very much like the movable enclosure of a rolltop desk, retracted into the fuselage, creating a minimum of aerodynamic drag to keep speed high over the target area.

Like the B-17, the B-24 had an array of .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in the tail, belly, top, sides and nose to defend it from attacking enemy fighters. However, unlike the B-17, the ball turret could be retracted into the fuselage when not in use, a necessity given the low ground clearance of the fuselage. The ball turret first appeared on B-24Ds sometime in early 1943 but not before the early Ds had used tunnel guns and the Bendix remote controlled ventral turret, also used (unsuccessfully) on the initial B-17E examples and on some early B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. General use of the ball turrets by the U.S. would last until late July 1944 when performance gains outweighed the need for 360 degree belly defense. Bomber Command Liberators generally dispensed with the belly turrets as unnecessary in areas where no enemy fighter presence would be found.

General characteristics
Crew: 11 (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, radio operator, nose turret, top turret, 2 waist gunners, ball turret, tail gunner)
Length: 67 ft 8 in (20.6 m)
Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in (33.5 m)
Height: 18 ft 0 in (5.5 m)
Wing area: 1,048 ft² (97.4 m²)
Empty weight: 36,500 lb (16,590 kg)
Loaded weight: 55,000 lb (25,000 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 65,000 lb (29,500 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-35 or -41 turbosupercharged radial engines, 1,200 hp (900 kW) each
Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0406
Drag area: 42.54 ft² (3.95 m²)
Aspect ratio: 11.55

Performance
Maximum speed: 290 mph (250 kn, 470 km/h)
Cruise speed: 215 mph (187 kn, 346 km/h)
Stall speed: 95 mph (83 kn, 153 km/h)
Range: 2,100 mi (1,800 nmi, 3,400 km)
Ferry range: 3,700 mi (3,200 nmi, 6,000 km)
Service ceiling: 28,000 ft (8,500 m)
Rate of climb: 1,025 ft/min (5.2 m/s)
Wing loading: 52.5 lb/ft² (256 kg/m²)
Power/mass: 0.0873 hp/lb (144 W/kg)
Lift-to-drag ratio: 12.9

Armament
Guns: 10 × .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in 4 turrets and two waist positions
Bombs: Short range (˜400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
Long range (˜800 mi): 5,000 lb (2,300 kg)
Very long range (˜1,200 mi): 2,700 lb (1,200 kg)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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