C-87 Liberator Express
|C-87 Liberator Express|
|Type||Military transport aircraft|
|Primary user||Air Transport Command|
The C-87 Liberator Express was a transport derivative of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. It was used during World War II. A total of 287 C-87's were factory-built alongside the B-24 at the Consolidated Aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas, although an unverified number of additional "C-87" aircraft were created by performing field conversions on airframes that originally rolled off the production line as B-24's.
The C-87 was hastily designed in early 1942 to fulfill the need for a heavy transport with longer range and better high-altitude performance than the C-47 Skytrain, the mostly widely available United States Army Air Forces transport aircraft at the time. The first C-87 prototype was based on a damaged B-24D, serial #42-40355, that crashed at Tucson Municipal Airport #2 on 2/17/43. [War Department, U.S. Army Air Forces REPORT OF AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT #43-2-17-11].
Although six Consolidated Aircraft employees riding as passengers were killed and several others were injured, the damaged aircraft was later converted from bomber configuration into a transport configuration , mostly consisting of the deletion of the gun turrets and other armament; the installation of a cargo floor, loading doors, seats, and windows; the use of a windowless sheetmetal nose in place of the glassed-in bomber nose; and rearrangement of the crew compartment. A variant, designated C-109, was designed to be a fuel transport.
Most C-87's were operated by the U.S. Air Transport Command and flown by civilian crews from U.S. civil airlines. The planes were initially used on transoceanic routes too long to be flown by the C-47. After the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, the C-87 was used for flying war material from India to besieged Chinese forces over "The Hump", the treacherous air route that crossed the Himalayas. When the route was established, the C-87 was the only readily available American transport with high-altitude performance good enough to fly this route while carrying a large cargo load.
The C-87 suffered from a poor reputation amongst its crews. Complaints centered around the clumsy flight control layout, frequent engine problems, and the numerous often-leaking fuel lines which crisscrossed the crew compartment, creating a fire hazard and frequently threatening to overcome the flight crews with noxious gasoline fumes. Several C-87's experienced fuel fires inside the crew area during flight. The craft also had dangerously tricky flight characteristics in the event of in-flight airframe icing, a frequent occurrence over the Himalayas in the days before accurate weather forecasting.
The airplane could also be difficult to fly if its center of gravity was located in the wrong place due to improper cargo loading. This problem could be traced to the design's roots as a bomber. The bomb racks of the B-24 were located in a fixed position, making it almost impossible to load the craft incorrectly, so the airplane was not designed to be tolerant of improper loading. A purpose-built transport plane would have been designed to take loading variations into account.
The C-87 was rapidly withdrawn from front-line transport service after the introduction of the Douglas C-54, which offered similar high-altitude performance combined with greater reliability and more benign flight characteristics. Some surviving C-87 aircraft were converted into VIP transports or flight crew trainers, and several others were sold to the Royal Air Force.
- Gann, Ernest K. (1961). Fate is the Hunter. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-63603-0.
- Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express. Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Military Aircraft. Retrieved on 25 April, 2006.
- Army Air Forces: C-84 - C-85 - C-86 - C-87 - C-88 - C-89 - C-90
- Navy: RY - R2Y - R3Y - R4Y
- Consolidated: 29 - 30 - 31 - 32 - 33 - 34 - 35
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