C-87 Liberator Express

C-87 Liberator Express

Infobox Aircraft
name= C-87 Liberator Express

type= Military transport aircraft
manufacturer= Consolidated Aircraft
first flight=
introduced= 1942
status= Retired
primary user= United States Army Air Force
more users= Royal Air Force
number built= 287
unit cost=
developed from = B-24 Liberator
variants with their own articles=

The Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express was a transport derivative of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber used during World War II. A total of 287 C-87s were factory-built alongside the B-24 at the Consolidated Aircraft plant in Fort Worth, Texas. An unverified number of additional aircraft later designated "C-87" were created by simply performing field conversions on airframes constructed as B-24 bombers.

Design and development

The C-87 was hastily designed in early 1942 to fulfill the need for a heavy cargo and personnel transport with longer range and better high-altitude performance than the C-47 Skytrain, the most 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 17 February 1943. [War Department, U.S. Army Air Forces Report of Aircraft Accident #43-2-17-11] Six Consolidated Aircraft employees riding as passengers were killed and several others were injured.

The prototype was converted into a transport configuration [Baugher, Joe,"Consolidated B-24" [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b24_26.html B-24] ] by various modifications, including deletion of the gun turrets and other armament; the installation of a strengthened cargo floor, including a floor running through the bomb bay. The glassed-in bombardier compartment of the B-24 was replaced by a hinged metal cap to allow front cargo loading. A cargo door was added to the port side of the fuselage, just forward of the tail, and a row of windows was fitted along the sides of the fuselage.

The C-87 could be fitted with removable seats and racks to carry personnel or litters in place of cargo. In its final configuration, the C-87 could carry between 20 and 25 passengers or 12,000 lbs of cargo. Because of war production bottlenecks and shortages, many C-87 aircraft were fitted with turbosuperchargers producing lower boost pressure and power than those fitted to B-24s destined for combat use, and ceiling and climb rate were accordingly affected.

Two variants of the C-87 were produced; the C-87A, a VIP passenger transport version of the basic C-87, and the C-109, a fuel transport.

C-87A VIP transport

In 1942 and 1943, several C-87 aircraft were converted into VIP luxury passenger transports by adding insulation, padded seats, dividers, and other accommodations. The modified aircraft was capable of carrying 16 passengers, and given the designation C-87A. One C-87A in particular, Number 41-24159, was exclusively converted in 1943 to a presidential VIP transport, the "Guess Where II", intended to carry President Franklin D. Roosevelt on international trips. Had it been accepted, it would have been the first aircraft to be used in presidential service, i.e. the first Air Force One. However, the Secret Service, after a review of the C-87's controversial safety record in service, flatly refused to approve the "Guess Where II" for presidential carriage.The "Guess Where II" was then used to transport senior members of the Roosevelt administration. In March, 1944, the "Guess Where II" transported Eleanor Roosevelt on a goodwill tour of several Latin American countries.Dorr 2002, p. l34.]

Operational history

Most C-87s 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. Unfortunately, the C-87 did not climb well when heavily loaded, a dangerous characteristic when flying out of the unimproved, rain-soaked airfields of India and China, and many planes were lost in fiery explosions at the end of a runway.

Overall, the C-87 suffered from a poor reputation amongst its crews. Ernest K. Gann, in "Fate is the Hunter" said, "They were an evil bastard contraption, nothing like the relatively efficient B-24 except in appearance." Complaints centered around the clumsy flight control layout, frequent engine problems, "ground-hugging" characteristics when heavily loaded, hydraulic leaks, and fuel leaks from improvised lines used to connect auxiliary long-range tanks, which crisscrossed the crew compartment, creating noxious, potentially explosive fumes and a fire hazard. Several C-87s experienced fuel fires inside the crew area during flight. The craft also had a tendency to enter an uncontrollable stall or spin in the event of inflight airframe icing, a frequent occurrence over the Himalayas in the days before accurate weather forecasting (Gann said they "...could not carry enough ice to chill a highball").

The airplane could also become unstable in flight if its center of gravity shifted due to improper cargo loading. This longitudinal instability arose from the aircraft's hasty conversion from bomber to cargo transport. Unlike a normal cargo transport, which was designed from the start with a contiguous cargo compartment with a safety margin for fore-and-aft loading variations, the bomb racks and bomb bays built into the C-87 design were fixed in position, greatly limiting the aircraft's ability to tolerate improper loading. This problem was exacerbated by wartime exigencies and the failure of USAAF Air Transport Command to instruct loadmasters in the C-87's peculiarities.

The C-87 was rapidly withdrawn from front line transport service after the introduction of the C-54 Skymaster, 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.


The C-109 was a dedicated fuel transport version of the C-87. Unlike the C-87, the C-109 was not built on the assembly line, but rather was converted from existing B-24 bomber production. All armament and bombardment equipment was removed, and the glass nose and turret fairings were removed and covered with sheet metal. Several fuel storage tanks were fitted, and the C-109 could carry a total of 2,900 U.S. gallons of high-octane aviation fuel with all tanks filled. A total of 218 C-109 variants were built. Like the C-87, the C-109 was not popular with its crews; the aircraft demonstrated unstable flight characteristics with all storage tanks filled, and proved very difficult to land when loaded at airfields above 6,000 feet MSL in elevation. [Baugher, Joe, "Consolidated C-109" [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b24_27.html] ] Many C-109s were lost in flying the Hump airlift to China.


*Royal Air Force;USA
*United States Army Air Force


ee also

*B-24 Liberator
similar aircraft=
*C-108 Flying Fortress
*List of military aircraft of the United States
*List of military aircraft of the United States (naval)
see also=




* Baugher, Joe. [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b24_26.htm "Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express".] Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Military Aircraft. Retrieved: 25 April 2006.
* Baugher, Joe. [http://home.att.net/~jbaugher2/b24_27.html "Consolidated C-109".] Joe Baugher's Encyclopedia of American Military Aircraft. Retrieved: 5 September 2008.
* Dorr, Robert F. "Air Force One". New York: Zenith Imprint, 2002. ISBN 0-76031-055-6.
*Gann, Ernest K. "Fate is the Hunter". New York: Simon & Schuster, 1961. ISBN 0-671-63603-0.

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