Convair PB4Y-2 Privateer

Last revised August 23, 1999






Work on a B-24 variant that was better suited to the Navy's requirements began on May 3, 1943, when Consolidated/Vultee was instructed to allocate three PB4Y-1s for conversion into a more advanced patrol aircraft designated XPB4Y-2. The company designation of Model 40 was initially applied to the project, but the project was eventually assigned the new model number 100 in the old Vultee series. The name *Sea Liberator* was initially assigned to the PB4Y-2, but this was quickly changed to *Privateer*.

The Navy wanted a long-range maritime patrol aircraft which had a better performance at low altitudes. Since most Navy Liberator missions were flow at low or medium altitudes, the turbosuperchargers of the PB4Y-1 were thought to be unnecessary and a considerable weight savings could be achieved if they were omitted. The Navy also wanted to increase the Liberator's aerodynamic stability at low altitudes. In early 1942, Consolidated had demonstrated in wind tunnel tests that the Liberator would be more stable if the twin fins and rudders were replaced by a single tail fin and rudder. In addition, the Navy wanted to add a flight engineer's station which would help to reduce pilot fatigue on long patrols.

Three PB4Y-1s were allocated for the initial conversions. Bureau of Aeronautics serials were 32086, 32095, and 32096. A seven-foot extension was added to the forward fuselage to accommodate a flight engineer's station. The engines were changed to the non-supercharged 1350 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-94. The oil cooler scoops were repositioned above and below the nacelle instead of on each side, changing the orientation of the elliptically-shaped nacelles from horizontal to vertical. A tall vertical tail was planned which would increase the overall height of the aircraft to 29 feet 1 5/8 inches, but the XPB4Y-2 initially retained the twin-tail Liberator configuration while the new single-tail was being tested.

The defensive armament was also beefed up. The PB4Y-2 carried two Martin A-3 power turrets mounted on the dorsal spine, one immediately behind the cockpit and one immediately ahead of the vertical tail. The nose had the ERCO 250 SH ball turret that had also been retrofitted to some of the early PB4Y-1s that had been based on the glass-nosed B-24D. The tail carried a standard Consolidated A-6B turret. The flexible waist positions of the PB4Y-1 were replaced by ERCO 250 THE teardrop-shaped waist blisters. Each of these blisters contained an internal powered ball turret which allowed both fore and aft traverse as well as up and down movement. Each blister carried a pair of 0.50-inch machine guns. When both turrets were depressed to maximum, the guns converged to a point 30 feet below the PB4Y-2. Consequently, the protection provided by these blisters against threats from below was deemed to be sufficiently adequate that it was decided that no additional ventral defensive armament was needed, and the Sperry belly ball turret fitted to many PB4Y-1s was omitted.

Cabin heating was provided by Convair exhaust heat exchangers. Eight JATO units could also be fitted. However, JATO units were very experimental and were not actually used in any of the active squadrons.

The first of three XPB4Y-2 prototypes flew on September 20, 1943. They were all initially flown without the single-tail modification, and the first two also retained the standard B-24 engine package. The first prototype retained the twin-tail configuration throughout its life, but the second prototype was eventually fitted with a small C-54-type single-fin vertical tail. Only the third prototype was fitted with the large-sized vertical tail that was eventually mounted on the production Privateer.

On October 15, 1943, 660 PB4Y-2s were ordered, followed a year later by an order for a second batch of 710 machines. All of them were to be built by Convair/San Diego. First Privateer deliveries began in March of 1944. The last of 739 Privateers was delivered in October of 1945. The remaining Privateers on the order were cancelled following V-J Day.

The Privateer entered Navy service during the late summer of 1944. VB-118 and VB-119 were the first Fleet squadrons to equip with the Privateer. In October of 1944, squadrons previously labeled "VB" were redesignated "VPB", and VB-118 and VB-119 became VPB-118 and VPB-119 respectively. The first overseas deployment began on January 6, 1945, when VPB-118 left for operations in the Marianas.

The Privateer was used exclusively in the Pacific theatre in WW 2, where it was used primarily for patrol missions in support of amphibious operations during the latter stages of the Pacific war. The crew was typically 11 to 13 on these missions. No other Navy aircraft had the Privateer's range and versatility on these patrol missions. The Privateers flew up to 16-hour missions in support of the invasion of Iwo Jima. Navy Privateers also performed a variety of other missions--they searched out and destroyed enemy radar and radio/navigational stations, troop ships, sea and land targets and other targets of opportunity. They reported on weather, on enemy positions and actions, located downed airmen, and coordinated rescue operations. They provided cover and recovery for many of the B-29 missions flown out of the Marianas against Japan. Many Privateers were outfitted as communications platforms and were operated as electronic countermeasures aircraft agains enemy positions and equipment.

Operational Privateers had numerous bumps and bulges underneath the fuselage and nose which housed various air-to-surface radar and radar countermeasures antennae. Equipment that could be carried included AN/APR-1 (100-950 MHz), AN/APR-2 (900-1000 MHz), and AN/APR-5 (1000-3100 MHz) radar intercept receivers which included direction finders and pulse analyzers. Also installed were AN/ARR-5 and AN/ARR-7 communications intercept receiver and AN/APT-1 *Dina* (90-220 MHz), AN/APT-5 *Carpet* (450-720 MHz), and AN/APQ-2 *Rug* (450-720 MHz) jammers. Although all this equipment could not be carried at the same time, racks were provided to carry specific pieces of equipment as required for a given mission.

Three squadrons (VPB-109, VPB-123, and VPB-124) were equipped with PB4Y-2Bs which carried an ASM-N-2 Bat anti-shipping radar-homing glide bomb underneath each wing. The Bat was 12 feet long, hand a 10-foot wingspan, and weighed 1600 pounds. The first operational use of the Bat was on April 23, 1945 when a VPB-109 Privateer launched a pair of these gliding bombs against enemy shipping in Valikpapan harbor on Borneo.

The first Privateer loss was an aircraft from VPB-106 which was ditched in October of 1944 in the Gulf of California. All crew were saved. The first Privateer combat loss was 59477 from VPB-121, which went down on January 12, 1945. The last Privateer combat loss of the war was 59495 from VPB-121, which was shot down on August 14, 1945 off the coast of Honshu. In all, 61 PB4Y-2 Privateers were lost in action during the War.

Squadrons VB-101 through VB-117 inclusive were the original Navy Liberator Squadrons, whereas the original Privateer squadrons were numbered (after Oct 1944) VPB-118 through VPB-124, plus VPB-143. Squadrons VPB-100, VPB-197, and VPB-200 were training squadrons. Several of the Navy Liberator squadrons switched over to Privateers when they went through a second or third tour of duty. These included VPB-104 (third tour), VPB-106, VPB-108 (second tour), VPB-109 (second tour), VPB-111 (came from ETO flying Liberators), and VPB-115 (second tour). Several other Navy Liberator squadrons (such as VPB-116 and VPB-117) were in transition to Privateers at the time the war ended. Several other squadrons from the ETO were disestablished while getting Privateers as the war ended, including VPB-107, VPB-110, VPB-112, and VPB-114.

After the end of the war, when several of the Navy Privateer squadrons had been disestablished, the old prewar squadron designation "VP" was revived, and took up with the World War 2 numbering system--for example, VPB-106 became VP-106. Following the end of the war, six Navy squadrons continued to fly the Privateer. Some Navy Privateers were used for ELINT operations during the early years of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. These missions could on occasion be quite dangerous. On April 8, 1950, a VP-26 Privateer flying such a mission was shot down over the Baltic Sea by Soviet fighters.

The Privateer flew numerous patrol missions during the Korean War in search of North Korean or Chinese seaborne infiltrators. Privateers from VP-28, VP-772, and VP-871 flew flare missions in support of Marine Corps F7F Tigercat and F4U-5N Corsair night fighters. They carried up to 250 high-intensity parachute flares, enough to provide target illumination for several teams of attack aircraft during a single night sortie.

Numerous Navy Privateers were converted for various other missions. The PB4Y-2M was a meteorological research version obtained by removing the turrets and adding a B-24D-type nose transparency. The PB4Y-2P was a photographic reconnaissance version. The PB4Y-2S was an antisubmarine search version which carried additional radar, and the PB4Y-2K was a target drone version converted by the Naval Air Development Center.

In 1951, the Privateer aircraft still in service were redesignated P4Y-2, P4Y-2B, and P4Y-2S. During the early 1950s, Privateers from VP-23 flew hurricane-hunting missions out of Miami, Florida.

The Privateer also played an important role in training. The P4Y-2 remained the primary Navy multi-engined training aircraft until the mid-1950s. They served with ATU-12 at Corpus Christi, Texas, but moved to NAS Hutchinson, Kansas and redesignated ATU-600. The station was closed in 1956 and the squadron was disestablished.

The last Privateers left Fleet service in mid-1954. I still remember seeing Navy Privateers flying low over my farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland during the early to mid-1950s. They were based, I believe, at the Chincoteague Naval Air Station in Virginia.

The Coast Guard operated nine P4Y-2 Privateers out of bases at Barbers Point, Hawaii and at USCG Air Station San Francisco for search and rescue missions and for weather reconnaissance. They were redesignated P4Y-2G for this role. The nose turret was replaced by a large glazing similar to that of the earlier B-24D, and the waist sponsons were deleted and replaced by large bay windows.

In 1950, 22 PB4Y-2S Privateers were provided to France's Aeronautique Navale. They served with Flotille 6F, 8F, and 28F, and were based at Tan Son Nhut in French Indochina starting in November of 1950. They were converted to PB4Y-2B configuration for standard bombing missions. Four were lost in Indochina, six were returned to the US Navy, and the rest were flown to North Africa, where they saw action during the Algerian war of independence. They also flew missions during the Suez incident of 1956. The last Aeronavale Privateers were scrapped in early 1961 following re-equipment with the Lockheed P2V-6 Neptune.

38 P4Y-2s were transferred to the Chinese Nationalist Air Force between May of 1952 and June of 1956. They flew various missions against the Communist mainland, about which relatively few details are available, even today. A total of four were lost in action. The P4Y-2 flew its last combat mission in 1961, when a Chinese Nationalist Privateer was shot down by Burmese Hawker Sea Fury fighters while dropping supplies to rebels in the Shan State region.

The Honduran Air Force used three Privateers in the transport role until the early 1970s.

Under the new Tri-Service designation scheme introduced in September of 1962, the PB4Y-2 was redesignated P-4B. At this time, the only Privateer still flying with the Navy was a QP4Y-2 being used to ferry personnel between the Pacific Missile Test Range (PMTC) at Point Mugu, California and St. Nicholas Island. It was redesignated QB-4B, although this aircraft had probably already been withdrawn from service by this time.

A number of ex-USCG Privateers with their glazed noses were converted into the aerial fire bombing role by Transaire Spraying Company of Canyon, Texas. The R-1830-94 Twin Wasps were replaced by more powerful 1700-hp Wright R-2600 Cyclones. These conversions (known as *Super Privateers*) could be identified by the presence of short-stack exhausts which protruded around the circumference of the nacelles. They could carry up to 18,000 pounds of fire-retardant chemical. Several Super Privateers were operated by Hawkins & Powers Aviation of Greybull, Wyoming, which used them in the fire-fighting role under contract to the US Forest Service. Some of these aircraft had their nose glazing replaced with North American F-86 Sabre canopies for improved visibility. As of 1997, at least five of these fire-fighting Privateers were still flying.

Another P4Y-2 was used for agricultural spraying by International Air Applicators, Inc.

Several ex-Navy Privateers ended up serving with Latin American airlines. A Brazilian Privateer registered as PT-BEG was in service in 1963. A Mexican example was XB-DOD. The Empresa Latino Americana de Aeronavagacion (ELDA) operated Privateers in freight routes in South America throughout the early 1960s, sometimes carrying passengers on a fill-up basis.

A PB4Y-2 painted as BuNo 66304 is on display at the Naval Air Museum at Pensacola, Florida. There is some question about its true BuNo, since it was originally a "patched" aircraft obtained in a trade from Hawkins & Powers. PB4Y-2 BuNo 59818 was formerly at Chandler, Arizona, but was moved to the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas. It is scheduled to fly again with an Erco turret fitted into the nose.

Serials of Consolidated-Vultee PB4Y-2 Privateer:

32000/32335		Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator
				32086, 32095, 32096 converted to XPB4Y-2
				Privateer.
59350/59999		Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer
				Redesignated P4Y-2 in 1951 and P-4 in 1962.
				59701 with Hawkins and Powers Aviation as N6884C
				59763 crashed June 1974 during fire fighting
					mission.  Now owned by Ronald
					Sathre as N7237C
				59819 with Lone Star Flight Museum as
					N3739G
				59882 with Hawkins and Powers Aviation as N7692C
				59876 under civilian registration N6813D
60000/60009		Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer
				redesignated P4Y-2 in 1951 and P-4 in 1962.
66245/66324		Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer
				redesignated P4Y-2 in 1951 and P-4 in 1962.
				66260 with Hawkins and Powers Aviation as N7620G
				66300 with Hawkins and Powers Aviation as N2872G
				66302 with Hawkins and Powers Aviation as N2871G
				66313 with civilian registration N3431G
66325/66394		Cancelled contract for PB4Y-2 Privateer
66795/66999		Cancelled contract for PB4Y-2 Privateer	
67000/67054 		cancelled contract for PB4Y-2 Privateer
76839/77138		cancelled contract for PB4Y-2 Privateer
77000/77138		Cancelled contract for PB4Y-2 Privateer

Specification of Consolidated-Vultee PB4Y-2 Privateer:

Four Pratt & Whitney R-1830-94 fourteen-cylinder air-cooled radial engines, each rated at 1350 hp. Performance: Maximum speed 248.5 mph at 12,000 feet. Cruising speed 158 mph. Initial climb rate 1180 feet per minute. An altitude of 10,000 feet could be reached in 16.3 minutes. Service ceiling 18,300 feet. Range 2630 miles with 4000 pound bombload. Patrol range 2900 miles with 3964 US gallons fuel. Dimensions: wingspan 110 feet 0 inches, length 74 feet 7 inches, height 29 feet 1 1/2 inches, wing area 1048 square feet. Weights: 39,400 pounds empty, 64,000 pounds gross. Armament: Twelve 0.50-inch machine guns distributed as follows: two in nose turret, two in forward dorsal turret, two in rear dorsal turret, two in tail turret, two in left side blister turret, two in right side blister turret. Bombload of 8000 pounds could be carried.

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. United States Navy Aircraft Since 1911, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

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

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

  10. E-mail from Ron Sathre, PB4YGuy@aol.com.