The Consolidated B-24 Liberator was a heavy bomber designed and built by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation starting in 1939. The Liberator was the most highly produced American military aircraft created during World War II. During its operational life, the B-24 has been employed by fifteen different air forces and served a vast series of roles, including that of being a heavy bomber, use for maritime reconnaissance and photo-reconnaissance, transport for supplies and VIPs, radio counter measures and even that of a flying tanker. The Consolidated B-24 Liberator’s large fuselage allowed it to serve in these many roles and proved this military plane to be one of the most versatile planes in the Second World War.
As a four-engine bomber, the B-24’s versatile roles made it probably the most important military aircraft during the war. The Liberator performed its heavy bombing in all the theatres of war operations in Europe and the Pacific, carried much needed fuel to France when troops were pushing towards Germany, was regularly used to transport American troops and supplies, as well as being employed to attack U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean. While the B-24 never attained the recognition and accolades from the press and the public that the B-17 Flying Fortress achieved during the Second World War, the Liberator still proved to be a tenacious and reliable aircraft in both its offensive and supporting roles.
The birth of what would become the current B-24 Liberator had its genesis in May of 1938 when the French Government employed Consolidated Aircraft to design and produce a heavy bomber. Consolidated’s studies, referred to as LB30, was for the design of a land version of the Model 29 flying boat. Then in early 1939, the US Army Air Corps commissioned Consolidated to design and produce a heavy bomber that would have far greater performance than the current Boeing B-17. The Air Corps wanted a heavy bomber capable of speeds in excess of 300 mph, a range of 3,000 miles with the ability to fly at a 35,000 ft ceiling.
By January 20, 1939, Consolidated Aircraft’s engineers had rose to the challenge in its design study, referred to as XB-24, in coming up with the preliminary specification and beginning construction for Model 32, the Liberator. The design incorporated David R. Davis’s high aspect ratio wing and also the twin-finned tail that was currently in use on the Model 31 Flying Boat. In February of 1939, wind tunnel tests were conducted and Consolidated’s engineers met with senior Air Corps at Wright Field to discuss their aircraft design. Satisfied with Consolidated’s initial design, the Air Corps signed a contract on March 30, 1939, for a prototype to be constructed implementing almost thirty design element changes the Air Corps required from the preliminary specifications.
France, in September of 1939 placed an order for 139 aircrafts to be built under the original LB30 designation and design. Then on October 26, 1939, Davis’s high aspect ratio wing was affixed to the fuselage with the Liberator taking its first test flight on December 29, 1939, piloted by William Wheatley taking off from Lindbergh Field, next to Consolidated Aircraft’s production facility in San Diego, California. At the time, the Model 29, the genesis of the B-24 Liberator had far exceeded both the most complicated aircraft to ever be assembled, and also the most expensive.