World Air Photography Blogs

The Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer

The Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer was a World War II United States Navy patrol bomber derived from the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The Navy had been using unmodified B-24s as the PB4Y-1 Liberator, and the type was considered very successful. However, a fully navalized design was desired, and Consolidated developed a dedicated long-range patrol bomber in 1943, designated PB4Y-2 Privateer.

 Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer

Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer

In 1951 the family was re designated P4Y-2 Privateer. The Privateer was externally similar to the Liberator, but the fuselage was longer to accommodate a flight engineer’s station, and had a tall single vertical stabilizer rather than the B-24’s twin tail configuration. The defensive armament was also increased to 12 .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in six turrets (two dorsal, two waist, nose and tail), with the B-24’s belly turret being omitted. Turbo superchargers were not fitted to the engines since maritime patrol missions were not usually flown at high altitude.

The Ford Motor Company (which produced B-24s for the U.S. Army Air Corps, later the United States Army Air Forces) had earlier built an experimental variant (B-24K) using the single tail of a B-23 Dragon.Aircraft handling was improved, and the Air Corps’ proposed B-24N production model was to be built by Ford; however, the order was canceled on May 31, 1945 and the B-24N never entered production. The Navy’s desire for substantial redesigns, however, had sustained interest in the new tail assembly.

Coast Guard PB4Y-2G.The Navy eventually took delivery of 739 Privateers, the majority after the end of the war, although several squadrons saw service in the Pacific theater in the reconnaissance, search and rescue, electronic countermeasures, communication relay and anti-shipping roles (the latter with the “Bat” guided bomb.)

Privateer in post war markings for the US Coast Guard

Privateer in post war markings for the US Coast Guard

The Privateer was used as a typhoon/hurricane hunter from 1945 to the mid-1950s. One aircraft, designated BuNo 59415 went down when it experienced mechanical trouble when investigating a Category 1 typhoon near Batan Island in the Philippines. It attempted to land on the island, but was unable to do so and crashed. It was one of the only six hurricane hunter flights ever lost, and the only one found.

Privateers were also used during the Korean War to fly “Firefly” night illumination missions dropping parachute flares to detect North Korean and Chinese seaborne infiltrators.

All Navy PB4Y-2s were retired by 1954, though unarmed PB4Y-2G Privateers served until 1958 with the Coast Guard before being auctioned off for salvage.

PB4Y-2 were still being used as drones in the 1950s/early 1960s, designated PB4Y-2K initially and then P4Y-2 based names after 1951. They were then redesignated QP-4B under the 1962 United States Tri-Service aircraft designation system, part of the new patrol series, between the P-2 Neptune and the P-3 Orion.

Privateers in aerial firefighting

A limited number of refitted PB4Ys continued in civilian service as airtankers, dropping fire retardant on forest fires throughout the Western United States. On July 18, 2002, one such refitted PB4Y, BuNo 66260 operated by Hawkins and Powers Aviation of Wyoming in service with the CDF, at Chester Air Attack Base crashed 18 July 2002, it broke up in flight while fighting a wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park. Both crew members were killed in the accident, and the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded all large air tankers in the region. Following the accident, all remaining Privateers were retired.

Hawkins & Powers PB4Y-2 Firebomber at Greybull, Wyoming. This one crashed while battling a 1,200-acre wildfire near Denver in 2002

Hawkins & Powers PB4Y-2 Firebomber. This one crashed while battling a 1,200-acre wildfire near Denver in 2002

General characteristics

Crew: 11: two pilots, navigator, bombardier, five gunners, two radio operators
Length: 74 ft 7 in (22.73 m)
Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in (33.53 m)
Height: 30 ft 1 in (9.17 m)
Wing area: 1,048 ft² (97.4 m²)
Empty weight: 27,485 lb (12,467 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 65,000 lb (29,500 kg)
Powerplant: 4× Pratt & Whitney R-1830-94 radial engines, 1,350 hp (1,007 kW) each

Maximum speed: 237 mph (206 kn, 382 km/h)
Cruise speed: 175 mph (121 kn, 224 km/h)
Range: 2,820 mi (2,450 nmi, 4,540 km)
Service ceiling: 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
Wing loading: 62 lb/ft² (300 kg/m²)
Guns: 12 × .50 in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in six turrets
Bombs: Up to 12,800 lb (5,800 kg) of bombs, mines, or torpedoes



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