On December 29, 1939, 77 years ago today, the prototype of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber took to the air for its first flight in San Diego, California.
The video below is silent, so don't adjust your speaker volume. Watch it in full-screen mode for best results.
At its inception, the B-24 was a modern design featuring a highly efficient shoulder-mounted, high aspect ratio Davis wing. The wing gave the Liberator a high cruise speed, long range and the ability to carry a heavy bomb load. Early RAF Liberators were the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean as a matter of routine. However, the type was difficult to fly and had poor low speed performance. It also had a lower ceiling and was less robust than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. While aircrews tended to prefer the B-17, General Staff favored the B-24, and procured it for a wide variety of roles.
The B-24 was used extensively in World War II. It served in every branch of the American armed forces, as well as several Allied air forces and navies, and saw use in every theater of operations. Along with the B-17, the B-24 was the mainstay of the US strategic bombing campaign in the Western European theater. Due to its range, it proved useful in bombing operations in the Pacific, including the bombing of Japan. Long range anti-submarine Liberators played an instrumental role in closing the Mid-Atlantic Gap in the Battle of the Atlantic. The C-87 transport derivative served as a longer range, higher capacity counterpart to the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.
The B-24 was produced in very large numbers. At nearly 19,000 units, with over 8,000 manufactured by Ford Motor Company, it holds the distinction of being the most produced heavy bomber in history, the most produced multi-engine aircraft in history and the most-produced American military aircraft.
There's more at the link.
The B-24 undertook some of the most difficult and dangerous missions of World War II, including the Ploesti oilfield raid in Romania and the remarkable long-distance raids on Balikpapan in Borneo in 1944 (about which I've written at some length). It also took on the burden of very-long-range anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic Ocean, closing the so-called 'Mid-Atlantic Gap' in 1943. Its transport variant, the C-87, played a major role in flying supplies over 'The Hump' between India and China (also covered here in an earlier 'Weekend Wings' article).
There are only two airworthy B-24's still surviving. That's a pity, given its enormous importance to the US and Allied war effort.