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The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation was founded in 1923 by Reuben H. Fleet in Buffalo, New York, the result of the Gallaudet Aircraft Company’s liquidation and Fleet’s purchase of designs from the Dayton-Wright Company as the subsidiary was being closed by its parent corporation, General Motors. Consolidated became famous, during the 1920s and 1930s, for its line of flying boats. The most successful of the Consolidated patrol boats was the PBY Catalina, which was produced throughout World War II and used extensively by the Allies. Equally famous was the B-24 Liberator, a heavy bomber which, like the Catalina, saw action in both the Pacific and European theaters.

In 1943, Consolidated merged with Vultee Aircraft to form Consolidated-Vultee Aircraft, later known as Convair.

Consolidated PBY Catalina

Aircraft specs (PBY-5A):
  • Crew: 8 — pilot, co-pilot, bow turret gunner, flight mechanic, radioman, navigator and two waist gunners
  • Length: 63 ft 10 7/16 in (19.46 m)
  • Wingspan: 104 ft 0 in (31.70 m)
  • Height: 21 ft 1 in (6.15 m)
  • Wing area: 1,400 ft² (130 m²)
  • Empty weight: 20,910 lb (9,485 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 35,420 lb (16,066 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial engines, 1,200 hp (895 kW each) each
  • Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0309
  • Drag area: 43.26 ft² (4.02 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 7.73
  • Maximum speed: 196 mph (314 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 125 mph (201 km/h)
  • Range: 2,520 mi (4,030 km)
  • Service ceiling: 15,800 ft (4,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,000 ft/min (5.1 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 25.3 lb/ft² (123.6 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.034 hp/lb (0.056 kW/kg)
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 11.9
  • 3× .30 cal (7.62 mm) machine guns (two in nose turret, one in ventral hatch at tail)
  • 2× .50 cal (12.7 mm) machine guns (one in each waist blister)
  • 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) of bombs or depth charges, torpedo racks were also available

The Consolidated PBY Catalina was by far the most successful flying boat of the Second World War, and played a major part in the both the war in the Pacific and the Battle of the Atlantic, serving in large numbers with the US Navy and RAF Coastal Command.

The PBY Catalina was a twin engine aircraft capable of land and / or sea landings. The system was crewed from 7 to 9 members depending on the model type and could run the gamut of missions as utilized primarily by the United States Navy. The system first flew in 1935 as a prototype in which Consolidated beat out the Douglas aircraft company in trials for the USN. Production models would begin as the PBY-1 in 1936.

Today, satellites are the battle fleet’s keenest eyes. But during World War II, crews aboard lumbering flying boats provided distant, early warning of enemy ships and aircraft at sea. The Consolidated PBY Catalina was the U. S. Navy’s most successful patrol flying boat of the war but naval aviators also used the PBY to attack ships at night, and to search for and rescue people stranded at sea. Following World War II, large seaplanes and flying boats suffered a mass extinction. The war caused a tremendous surge in concrete runway construction around the world, and wartime research and development pushed the range of aircraft beyond the span of the world’s oceans. Seaplanes continued for some years after the war to serve special needs but land-based aircraft rapidly became more efficient at delivering most goods and services whether commercial or military.

Many aviation experts considered the PBY Catalina obsolete when the war started but combat proved the critics wrong. The ‘Cat’ had two noteworthy attributes that made the airplane prized by American aviators and the flight crews of other Allied nations: great range and excellent durability. By VJ Day, August 15, 1945, Consolidated and its licensees had built 3,282 PBYs, more than any flying boat or seaplane ever built.

Consolidated PBY Catalina (G-PBYA)
Consolidated PBY Catalina (G-PBYA)
Consolidated PBY Catalina (G-PBYA)

Consolidated Liberator

Aircraft specs (B-24J):
  • Crew: 7-10
  • Length: 67 ft 8 in (20.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in (33.5 m)
  • Height: 18 ft 0 in (5.5 m)
  • Wing area: 1,048 ft² (97.4 m²)
  • Empty weight: 36,500 lb (16,590 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 55,000 lb (25,000 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 65,000 lb (29,500 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830 turbosupercharged radial engines, 1,200 hp (900 kW) each
    Zero-lift drag coefficient: 0.0406
  • Drag area: 42.54 ft² (3.95 m²)
  • Aspect ratio: 11.55
  • Maximum speed: 290 mph (250 kn, 470 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 215 mph (187 kn, 346 km/h)
  • Stall speed: 95 mph (83 kn, 153 km/h)
  • Range: 2,100 mi (1,800 nmi, 3,400 km)
  • Ferry range: 3,700 mi (3,200 nmi, 6,000 km)
  • Service ceiling: 28,000 ft (8,500 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,025 ft/min (5.2 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 52.5 lb/ft² (256 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.0873 hp/lb (144 W/kg)
  • Lift-to-drag ratio: 12.9
  • Guns: 10 × .50 caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in 4 turrets and two waist positions
  • Bombs:
    Short range (˜400 mi): 8,000 lb (3,600 kg)
    Long range (˜800 mi): 5,000 lb (2,300 kg)
    Very long range (˜1,200 mi): 2,700 lb (1,200 kg)

Although often overshadowed by the B17 Flying Fortress, the B24 Liberator was built in greater numbers than any other US military aircraft and served with distinction in both war and peace. The first B24 Liberator made its maiden flight on 29 December 1939.

Designed by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation to rival the Boeing B17, the type proved an outstanding success, with 18500 aircraft being built by Consolidated, Douglas, North American and Ford between 1940 and 1945.

1900 B24s were supplied to the Royal Air Force. Liberators were used by RAF bomber squadrons in the Middle East, and from January 1944 became the principle RAF strategic bomber in the Far East. Liberators were also deployed by RAF Coastal Command, playing a key role in the war against Germany’s submarine fleet. Liberators also saw service as transports; indeed, (AL504 Commando) became the personal aircraft of Prime Minister Winston Churchill for a short time.

Liberators continued in use until December 1968 when the Indian Air Force retired its former RAF machines.

Six from the first batch for the UK were directed to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) for use in the North Atlantic Return Ferry Service. During WWII, Captain D.C.T. Bennett known as Pathfinder Bennett, flew the first crossing on 14 May 1941 taking 14½ hours. The thousandth crossing of the Atlantic took place in September 1944.