Even before twin-engine military transports demonstrated their indispensability during World War II, the AAF took steps to acquire larger, four-engine aircraft as cargo transports. During 1940-41, responding to overseas tensions and the pressing requirements of Lend-Lease opera-tions, the Army Ferrying Command took shape and decided to operate the modified Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber. Designated B-24A, the airplane was stripped of bomb-bay gear and assigned to long-distance routes, where its top speed of 300 mph and range of three thousand miles made it a valued asset. With its high, shoulder-mounted wing, boxy fuselage shape, low ground clearance, and extended range, the Liberator seemed a natural design for conversion into a full-time transport. Production orders for the transport version, the C-87, quickly followed.
External changes included the elimination of gun turrets and the bombardier's plexiglass nose position, which was covered over; the addition of seven windows cut into each side of the fuselage and a large cargo door at the rear of the port side; and the elimination of bomb-bay doors. The C-87 carried a five-man crew-pilot, copilot, navigator, radio operator, and crew chief-along with twenty-five passengers or a cargo of twelve thousand pounds in certain conditions. One early variant, the C-87A, came as an executive-style transport equipped with ten berths for oceanic hops and other lengthy missions. There was an armed version, the C-87B, used on flights over the Hump in China where routes brought it close to Japanese fighter bases. The C-109 version also flew over the Hump but was equipped with special containers to carry fuel for B-29 Superfortresses based in China. The production run for the basic C-87 model came to 291 aircraft, although a considerable number of airplanes underwent conversion to C-87 transport status without carrying the cargo designation. There were also ad hoc uses. In the autumn of 1944, when Gen. George S. Patton's tanks outran fuel supplies in France, the AAF assigned an entire wing of B-24 Liberators from the Eighth Air Force to carry emergency gas to Patton's logistical centers.
The Liberator transport served a useful purpose, but its original design as a bomber did not make it fully compatible with the growing list of wartime personnel transport and cargo needs. In any case, the continuing demand for bombers argued for a different set of production lines to supply a four-engine transport.
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