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B-24D "Liberator"

B-24, WWII aircraft that went in use in the later part of 1942.

B-24, WWII aircraft that went in use in the later part of 1942.

Consolidated B-24D "Liberator"
S/N 41-23908

Crew:  8-10
Engines:  Four Pratt & Whitney R-1830-43 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial; 1,200 hp each
Wingspan:  110 ft 0 in
Length:  66 ft 4 in
Height:  17 ft 11 in
Weight:  32,605 lbs empty; 56,000 lbs max
Speed:  max: 303 mph; cruise: 200 mph
Range:  2,850 miles with 5,000 lb bomb load; 4,600 miles max ferry range
Service Ceiling:  32,000 ft
Armament:  Ten .50 caliber machine guns; 8,000 lbs of bombs
Cost:  $310,765

This aircraft first became an identified B-24 on August 19, 1942 when a wing center cection was mated to a fuselage at the start of the Consolidated Aircraft San Diego assembly line and the airframe was given Consolidated Line Number 703, marking the 703rd Liberator to be delivered by Consolidated San Diego under AAF contracts. AAF Serial number 41-23908 was assigned at this time. 

The completed ship came off the end of the line on September 3, 1942 and was given its shakedown flight four days later on September 7th. The shakedown flight produced no write-ups, and a subsequent Check Flight was not necessary. All loose equipment items (manuals, keys, tools, etc.) were placed abord and accounted for on Packing Sheet #900-32.

The plane was accepted by the Army Air Force San Diego Plant Representative on September 9 and delivered to the AAF on the 10th. 41-23908 was then flown to the Consolidated plant in Fort Worth, Texas, arriving September 22, 1942. The plane received what was termed a "Bronze" modification, which was the code word for service in Alaska. It came off the Mod Line on November 17 and passed inspection, was given its Check Flight, and officially accepted the same day. It was delivered to a waiting ferry pilot on November 18, 1942.

The plane was assigned to Great Falls Army Air Field, Montana, on November 21, 1942 and on December 4, 1942 it was dispatched to Elmendorf AAF, Alaska, to assist American air, sea, and ground forces in repulsing the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. Soon the aircraft was assigned to the 21st Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) of the 28th Composite Group at a forward base on Umnak Island in the Aleutians. 

From there it was relocated to a small air base on Adak Island, even further west toward the Japanese-held islands at the western end of the Aleutians. From Adak the aircraft flew anti-shipping patrols to assist the U.S. Navy in intercepting Japanese cargo ships before they could resupply enemy troops on shore.

On January 18, 1943, Captain Ernest "Pappy" Pruett and his eight-man crew, along with the crews of five other B-24s, took off from Adak to locate and bomb three Japanese supply ships reportedly headed for the harbor of Japanese-held Kiska Island. The 500 mile trip to Kiska was made through deteriorating weather conditions. 

When the flight finally arrived over the target they were forced to abort the mission due to the weather and head for home. When the aircraft arrived back over Adak the visibility was so poor that they could only circle overhead awaiting an eventual break in the weather. When one of the other B-24 pilots in the group saw a brief opening over the runway and hastily tried to land he crashed into several P-38 aircraft parked on the field. 

One other B-24 did manage to land safely, but the four remaining planes were forced to disperse and look for someplace else to put down. Two of these B-24s disappeared presumably at sea and were never heard from again. A third, the Flight Commander's aircraft, had enough fuel to fly to Cold Bay where it landed safely.

Captain Pruett in the remaining aircraft, running low on fuel, radioed the Adak tower that he planned to put down on Great Sitkin Island about 25 miles northeast across the bay from the base. He descended toward the ocean and made a low pass over his proposed landing site to ascertain conditions. According to Lt. Francis Xaver, the Navigator on Capt. Pruett's B-24 that day:

As we flew over the 50 foot cliff on the shoreline, a strong wind blowing up the face of the cliff was so turbulent that it knocked out our radio, and we lost all contact with Adak. Unknown to us, Adak tried to contact us at about this time to inform us that a base was open somewhere up the chain of islands. Of course, we never received the message as our radio was out of order.

Capt. Pruett eased the B-24 onto the tundra at about 130mph, with the landing gear up to prevent flipping the aircraft. The B-24 slid about 1,000 feet over the mud and wet grass before it finally came to rest, passing between several large boulders at the foot of the volcanic mountain on Great Sitkin. Fortunately, only one crew member was injured in the crash landing, Bombardier TSgt. Holiel Ascol suffering a broken pelvis. The Navy ship USS Hurlbert picked the crew up later that same day and returned them to the base on Adak.

Ernest Pruett went on to fly 44 combat missions in World War II, never losing another aircraft. But for the derelict B-24 resting on Great Sitkin Island the war was over. For the next 50 years the forgotten aircraft rested on that lonely, wind-swept plain on the uninhabited island. Then in the summer of 1994 it was located by a scouting party from the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah, searching all known Alaskan B-24 crash sites for a recoverable aircraft for display at Hill Aerospace Museum. An expedition was organized for the summer of 1995.

Now retired in Carlsbad, California, Pruett was contacted by members of the Heritage Foundation and asked if he would like to return to the island and assist the recovery team in plucking "his" B-24 from obscurity. He and several members of the Heritage Foundation, the 419th Combat Logistics Support Squadron, and the 67th Aerial Port from Hill Air Force Base labored in the harsh Aleutian weather for several weeks to completely disassemble the plane and maneuver it to a waiting recovery ship. It was then transported to a restoration facility in California.

The restored B-24 fuselage finally arrived at the museum on May 17, 2002 and the wing center section arrived in early November 2006. Final assembly is now underway. Of the 19,286 B-24s that were manufactured during the Second World War, only around 20 examples remain in existence today, mostly in museums, but with a scant few still flying. This B-24 aircraft is presented by the Aerospace Heritage Foundation of Utah and Hill Aerospace Museum as a tribute to all those who served their country in World War II in the "forgotten war" of the Alaska Campaign.