U.S. heavy bomber during World War II; manufactured in greater numbers than any U.S. warplane. During late 1938, the U.S. Army Air Corps saw a need for additional heavy bombardment aircraft and approached Consolidated Aircraft to supplement B-17 Flying Fortress production by Boeing, Douglas, and Vega. When Consolidated president Reuben Fleet was approached, he stated that his company could build a better airplane. Consolidated began design of its Model 32 in January 1939.
By coincidence, Reuben Fleet had been approached by David R. Davis in 1937 to discuss wing-design theory. Not an aerodynamicist, Fleet insisted on having his chief engineer, Isaac Machlin “Mac” Laddon, and aerodynamicist George S. Schairer listen to the proposal. Extensive testing of the design in Cal Tech’s Guggenheim wind tunnel proved Davis’s concept to be far better than expected. The result was a high-aspect-ratio wing that offered excellent long-range cruise characteristics. This wing that was applied to the design of the Model 32, which became the B-24 Liberator.
The B-24 was powered by four Pratt and Whitney R-1820 engines. It had an 8,800-pound bombload, a service ceiling of 28,000 feet, a cruising speed of 215 mph, and a range of 2,100 miles. Manned by a crew of 10, the B-24H thru B-24J models mounted 10 .50-caliber machine guns for defensive armament.
The B-24 was a stablemate of the B-17 in the European theater during World War II; however, its vulnerability to battle damage and dissimilar performance compared to the B-17 led Brigadier General Curtis E. LeMay, then commander of the 3d Air Division, to remove the Liberators completely in favor of B-17s. The result was that the 1st and 3d ADs were equipped with B-17s and the 2d AD with only B-24s.
The first raid on the Ploesti oil fields was flown by 13 B-24s from the Halverson Provisional Group on the night of 11/12 June 1942, marking the first Allied heavy bombardment mission against Fortress Europe. On 1 August 1943, the famed Ploesti raid was flown under Operation TIDAL WAVE with a force of 177 B-24s from five bomb groups (three of which were loaned from the Eighth Air Force in Europe).
In the Mediterranean theater of operations, B-24s far outnumbered B-17s. Of the 21 heavy bombardment groups in the Mediterranean late in the war, 15 were equipped with B-24s. The airplanes performed well on the long-range missions deep into Germany and Austria. B-24s did far better in the Pacific theater. The missions were long, over water, with no mountainous obstacles as were encountered in the European and Mediterranean theaters, and enemy resistance was not as intense.
B-24s were also modified for specialized roles as Ferrets, photoreconnaissance platforms, fuel tankers, clandestine operations, and radio/radar jamming.
The B-24 was built in greater numbers than any other U.S. combat aircraft. A total of 19,257 B-24s,RAF Liberators, C-87 transports, and Navy PB4Y-2 Privateers were built at two Consolidated plants as well as Douglas (Tulsa), North American (Fort Worth), and Ford (Detroit). Ford produced 6,792 complete aircraft and another 1,893 knockdown kits that were shipped by road to other plants for assembly and completion.
References Blue, Alan G. The B-24 Liberator. Shepperton, UK: Ian Allan, 1967. Lloyd, Alwyn T. Liberator: America’s Global Bomber. Missoula,MT: Pictorial Histories, 1993.