Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express

Last revised June 13, 2004






The C-87 Liberator Express was a transport version of the B-24D bomber.

The first Liberator transport was created by converting B-24D serial number 42-40355 which had been damaged in a crash landing in the Arizona desert in early 1942. All of the bombing equipment and defensive armament were deleted, and the nose glazing where the bombardier sat was replaced by a sheet metal nose which hinged to the right. A floor was installed through the bomb bay and into the waist compartment. Rectangular windows were cut into the sides of the fuselage, and 25 seats were added. There was a large 6x6 door incorporated into the port side of the fuselage. The navigator's compartment was relocated to a position just aft of the pilot's cockpit, and an astrodome was installed where the top turret had been located. The tail turret was removed and replaced by a metal fairing. The crew was normally four--pilot, copilot, navigator, and radio operator.

The prototype was flown to Bolling Field in Washington, DC for evaluation. The Army was sufficiently impressed that they ordered the aircraft into production as the C-87 Liberator Express. All of the C-87s were built at Consolidated/Fort Worth and were delivered between September 2, 1942 and August 10, 1944. The first 73 C-87s were conversions from existing B-24Ds, with the remainder being built from scratch on the Fort Worth production line as transports. A total of 287 C-87s were built by Consolidated/Fort Worth. The C-87s were not assigned production block numbers, but there were six different versions of the C-87 that were built which incorporated a number of specific changes.

Most C-87s were assigned to Air Transport Command. When Burma fell to the Japanese in April of 1942, China's only route to the Allied supply line, the Burma Road, was cut. The only route to China from India was now by air, involving a treacherous flight over the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world. This route came to be known as the *Hump*. On September 12, 1943, the Air Transport Command established a new route to China via the Hump. This route began at Patterson Field, Ohio and ended in China. This round trip route covered 28,000 miles and took twelve days to complete. ATC C-87s became an important part of this operation. So dangerous was this route that the USAAF ended up losing three crewmen for each thousand tons of cargo that reached China. The Hump operation ended up costing the lives of over a thousand USAAF crewmen.

During the war, so great was the need for an air transportation system that the Army was forced to turn to the commercial airlines to help operate the system. In addition to ATC, four commercial airlines operated the Liberators under contract. These were Consairways, American Airlines, United Air Lines, and T&WA.

Consairways was organized as a separate subsidiary of Consolidated Aircraft. The original purpose of Consairways was to return the crews ferrying aircraft to the Pacific back to the USA, but it later ended up flying cargo of just about every imaginable type back and forth between the USA and the Pacific theatre. It also flew USO shows to entertain the troops in the Pacific. Consairways operated a mixture of LB-30s, C-87s, and B-24s. Two C-87s known to have been operated by Consairways were 41-24029 and 41-11706.

In January of 1943, American Airlines was awarded a contract by ATC to operate C-87s over North Atlantic and South Atlantic routes. These planes flew in military insignia and markings and carried USAAF serials, but were operated by civilian crews. Later, American Airlines personnel also flew numerous dangerous Hump missions. C-87s flown by American Airlines: 41-11608, 41-11639, 41-11657, 41-11674, 41-11675, 41-11729, 41-11731, 41-11744, 41-11745, 41-11746, 41-11788, 41-23695, 41-23859, 41-23792, 41-23959, 41-24141, 41-24163, 42-107274, 43-30565. One of the more notable exploits of AA-piloted C-87s was the 31,000-mile trip made by FDR's "One World Ambassador", Wendell Wilkie, aboard C-87 41-11608 *Gulliver*. This involved a 51-day mission to Cairo, Palestine, Baghdad, Teheran, Moscow, and China, and then a return to the United States via a route across the Pacific. AA later traded in their C-87s for more advanced C-54 Skymasters.

United Airlines was awarded a contract by ATC to fly trans-Pacific routes and to fly intra-theater leave shuttles ferrying armed forces personnel back and forth between the front and leave ports in Australia and New Zealand. C-87s operated by United Airlines included 41-24005, 41-24027, 41-24028, 41-24160, 41-24252, 41-24253, 41-11608, 41-11640, 41-11642, 41-11642, 41-11655, 41-11656, 41-11789, and 41-11861.

During the war, Transcontinental & Western Airlines (T&WA)--later to become Trans World Airlines or TWA--operated Liberators for training and in support of USAAF Ferry Command operations. In late 1942, T&WA's new Intercontinental Division was assigned three C-87s to fly the South Atlantic route between the USA and the Middle East.

The C-87A was a VIP transport version of the basic C-87. The C-87 had been essentially a "no-frills" transport, with little attention being paid to passenger comfort. The C-87A was designed for more passenger comfort, and had only 16 seats. It could be fitted with Pullman-type upholstered seats that could be converted into five berths. Because of the different seating accommodation, the window arrangement was different. The first three C-87As were named Gulliver I, Gulliver II, and Gulliver III. A total of six were built, three for the USAAF and three for the US Navy. Gulliver I (serial 41-11680 (some sources have it as 41-11608)), converted from a B-24D) was used by Wendell Wilkie in a 31,000 mile 51-day around the world flight in 1942. C-87A 41-24159 later became the first "Air Force One" for President Franklin Roosevelt, and was renamed *Guess Where II*.

Three C-87A VIP transports were turned over to the Navy under the designation RY-1. Navy BuNos were 67797/67799. Five C-87s were transferred to the US Navy under the designation RY-2. BuNos were 39013/39017.

Five C-87s were converted into AT-22 trainers, which were employed for training flight engineers. Their serial numbers were 42-107266, 43-30549, 43-30561, 42-30574, and 43-30584. Six stations were provided in the fuselage for the instruction of flight engineers in the operation of powerplants. They were intended to train engineers that were going to be flying aboard B-24 and B-32 bombers In 1944, these five planes were redesignated TB-24D.

24 USAAF C-87s were transferred to the RAF under Lend-Lease for use by Transport Command as Liberator C.VII. Their RAF serials were EW611/EW634. Known USAAF serial numbers are 44-39219 and 44-39248/39261, which accounts for only 15 of the 24 C.VIIs. They were used by Nos. 232, 246, and 511 Squadrons starting with mid to late 1944 up until the end of the war. EW611, ex-USAAAF 44-39219, became G-AKAG. The RAF did not keep its Liberator C.VIIs very long, disposing of the last examples in 1946.

The C-87s were not very popular with their crews, who complained about all sorts of hazards, particularly with the fuel system, with the engines, and with the cockpit accessories. The C-87 was notorious for problems with leaking fuel tanks, and midair fires were an ever-present danger. The C-87 also had some dangerous icing properties, which made it a very risky plane to fly over the Hump. There were few tears shed when the Army's C-87s were withdrawn from service and replaced by more reliable Douglas C-54 Skymasters.

Serials of C-87 and C-87A Liberator Express:

41-11608		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
				later reserialed 41-39600
41-11639/11642		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11655/11657		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11674/11676		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11704		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11706/11709		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11728/11733		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11742/11747		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11788/11789		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11800		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11837/11838		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-11907/11908		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23669/23670		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23694/23696		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23791/23793		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23850/23852		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23859/23862		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23863		Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express
41-23903/23905		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-23959		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24004/24006		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24027/24029		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24139/24141		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24158		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24159		Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express
41-24160/24163		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24172/24173		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
41-24174		Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express
41-39600		Consolidated XC-87 Liberator Express
42-107249/107275	Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
				107266 converted to AT-22
43-30548/30568		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
43-30569/30571		Consolidated C-87A-CF Liberator Express
				all to US Navy as RY-1 67797/67799
43-30572/30627		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
				30574 and 30584 converted to AT-22
44-39198/39298		Consolidated C-87-CF Liberator Express
				39198/39202 to US Navy as RY-2 39013/39017
				39219, 39248/39261 to RAF as Liberator C.VII
44-52978/52987		Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express

Specification of Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express:

Four Pratt & Whitney R-1830-43 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial engines with General Electric turbosuperchargers rated at 1200 hp at 2700 rpm for takeoff. Performance: Maximum speed 300 mph at 25,000 feet. An altitude of 20,000 feet could be reached in 60 minutes. Service ceiling 28,000 feet at 56,000 pound takeoff weight. Normal range at 60 percent power was 1400 miles at 215 mph at 10,000 feet. Maximum range was 3300 miles at 188 mph at 10,000 feet. Weights: 30,645 pounds empty, 56,000 pounds normal loaded. Dimensions: Wingspan 110 feet 0 inches, length 66 feet 4 inches, height 17 feet 11 inches, wing area 1048 square feet. Fuel: 2910 US gallons. Accommodation: Crew was normally four (pilot, copilot, navigator, radio operator). Up to 25 passengers could be carried. For ranges of 1000 miles or less, average cargo capacity was 10,000 pounds. On trans-oceanic routes, cargo capacity was 6000 pounds.

Sources:

  1. Famous Bombers of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1959.

  2. British Military Aircraft Serials, 1912-1969, Bruce Robertson, Ian Allen, 1969.

  3. Liberator: America's Global Bomber, Alwyn T. Lloyd, Pictorial Histories Publishing Co, Inc, 1993.

  4. The Consolidated B-24J Liberator, Roger A. Freeman, Profile Publications, Inc. 1969.

  5. B-24 Liberator in Action, Larry Davis, Squadron/Signal Publications Inc, 1987.

  6. General Dynamics Aircraft and Their Predecesssors, John Wegg, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  7. Consolidated B-24D-M Liberator IN USAAF-RAF-RAAF-MLD-IAF-CzechAF and CNAF Service, Ernest R. McDowell, Arco, 1970.

  8. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  9. American Combat Planes, 3rd Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  10. Jane's American Fighting Aircraft of the 20th Century, Michael J.H. Taylor, Mallard Press.

  11. E-mail from Lord Jim on 41-11680 (not 41-11608) being Gulliver I.