Consolidated C-87

Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express

By Joe Baugher

The first Liberator transport was converted from a B-24D [42-40355] that had been damaged in a crash landingin early 1942. All bombing equipment and defensive armament were removed—the plexiglass nose replaced by a hinged sheet metal nose and the tail turret was faired over. A floor was installed in the bomb bay and waist section, rectangular windows cut into the fuselage, and 25 seats added. A 6'x6' door incorporated into the port side of the fuselage. The navigator's station was relocated to just aft of the pilot's cockpit, and an astrodome replaced the top turret.

    The prototype was flown to Bolling Field for evaluation, and the Army was sufficiently impressed to order them into production as the C-87 Liberator Express. All were built at Fort Worth and delivered between Sep 2, 1942 and Aug 10, 1944. The first 73 C-87s were conversions from existing B-24Ds, with the remainder built from scratch as transports for total of 287 ships. They were not assigned production block numbers, but there were six different versions of the C-87 that incorporated a number of specific changes.

Most were assigned to Air Transport Command (ATC). When Burma fell to the Japanese in April 1942, China's only supply line, the Burma Road, was cut, and only route from India was by air, involving a perilous flight over the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world, which became legendary as "The Hump."

    On Sep 12, 1943 ATC established a route over The Hump that actally began at Patterson Field, Ohio, and ended in China, covering 28,000 miles and taking 12 days. ATC C-87s became an important part of this operation so dangerous that the AAF lost three crewmen for each thousand tons of cargo that reached China, ultimately costing the lives of more than 1,000 aircrewmen.

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

    Consairways was organized as a subsidiary of Consolidated Aircraft, the original purpose being to return ferry crews back to the USA, but it later ended up flying just about every imaginable type of cargo between the USA and the Pacific theatre. It also flew USO shows to entertain the troops in the Pacific theater. Consairways used two C-87s [41-11706, 24029], as well as B-24s and LB-30s.

    In Jan 1943 American Airlines was awarded a contract by ATC to operate C-87s with military markings and carried USAAF serials over North Atlantic and South Atlantic routes, staffed by civilian crews. They later also flew numerous dangerous Hump missions. [41-11608, 11639, 11657, 11674/11675, 11729, 11731, 11744/11746, 11788, 23695, 23859, 23792, 23959, 24141, 24163, 42-107274, 30565}.

    United Airlines was awarded an ATC contract to fly transpacific routes and to ferry military personnel back and forth between combat areas and ports in Australia and New Zealand. [41-24005, 24027/24028, 24160, 24252/24253, 11608, 11640, 11642, 11655/11656, 11789, 11861].

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

Five C-87s were converted as AT-22 for training flight engineers. Six stations in the fuselage were for students learning the operation of powerplants. In 1944 those five were redesignated TB-24D when they trained engineers scheduled for B-24 and B-32 bombers.

    24 AAF C-87s were transferred to the RAF under Lend-Lease for Transport Command as Liberator C.VII [EW611/EW634]—known AAF s/ns [44-39219, 39248/39261] account for only 15 of them. They were used by 232, 246, and 511 Sqdns from mid-1944 until the end of the war. The last examples were disposed of in 1946. [44-39219=EW611] became civil [G-AKAG].

C-87A was a 16-seat "VIP" version of the basic C-87, a no-frills transport with little attention paid to the comfort of their "Very Important Passengers." It could be fitted with Pullman-type upholstered seats, convertable into five berths. Because of the different seatings, window arrangement was different. Six were built, three each for AAF and USN. AAF C-87As were dubbed Gulliver I, Gulliver II, and Gulliver III. [41-24159] later became the first "Air Force One," for President F D Roosevelt and was renamed Guess Where II. Navy transports were redesignated as RY-1 —five C-87s also went to USN as RY-2.

    C-87s were not very popular with their crews, who complained about all sorts of problems, particularly with the fuel system, engines, and cockpit accessories. They were notorious for leaky fuel tanks, with in-flight fires an everpresent danger. They also had serious icing properties, making them doubly risky for flying The Hump. There were few tears shed when they were withdrawn from service and replaced by more reliable Douglas C-54 Skymasters.

    AT-2 conversions: [42-107266, 43-30549, 30561, 30574, 30584].
    XC-87: [41-39600].
    C-87-CF: [41-11608 (reserialed 41-39600), 11639/11642, 11655/11657, 11674/11676, 11680, 11704, 11706/11709, 11728/11733, 11742/11747, 11788/11789, 11800, 11837/11838, 11907/11908, 23669/23670, 23694/23696, 23791/23793, 23850/23852, 23859/23862, 41-23903/23905, 23959, 24004/24006, 24027/24029, 24139/24141, 24158, 24160/24163, 24172/24173, 42-107249/107275, 43-30548/30568, 44-39198/39298, 44-52978/52987].
    C-87A-CF: [41-23863, 24159, 24174, 43-30569/30571].
    RY-1 transfers from C-97: [67797/67799] from [43-30569/30571].
    RY-2 transfers from C-97A: [39013/39017] from [44-39198/39202].

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