380th Bomb Group Association

 NEWSLETTER #11 -- June  2002

from Colin Grey

It is over twelve months now since our very successful Dedication Day in August of 2000. I have spent forty years of my working life involved in one form of restoration or another and have seen the completion of a number of important projects. However, I have never enjoyed the moment so much as when I looked over the faces of some 1200 visitors that had traveled, across the world to see the rebirth of a B-24 Liberator M/R Heavy Bomber.

I remember well ANZAC (Australian, New Zealand Army Corps) Day, April the 25th, 1989 when I first met Eric Clark and Bob Butler at a 21-Squadron Royal Australian Air Force Reunion in Melbourne. It was my good fortune, some might argue misfortune, to be seated between Bob and Eric while they regaled their crew mates around the table about how they were going to restore a B-24 Liberator. For them it was not a new experience, Eric had been arguing his case for some six years. I was instantly captivated by the concept of restoring such a large aircraft.

I joined the fledgling B-24 Liberator Memorial Fund who's membership at the time included twelve other members. It was not until I was traveling home in the car that I realized that the chore might just be a little more difficult than Eric and Bob made it sound. We in fact were the poorest of the poor in the restoration world. We had no money, we had no equipment, we had no where to do the work, few of the members had any real or practical experience in such a project and of course, we had no aeroplane.

It is now February 2002 and I am very pleased and proud to be able to say we have overcome all of those obstacles. The B-24 Liberator Memorial Restoration Fund Inc. can now boast an International membership of over 700. The restoration of the primary structure of the airframe is now complete. We have some 40 volunteers who work at the restoration site. We have equally as many who work in the field, not only here in Australia, but around the world. Together they have invested over 300,000 man-hours in the project. We have 60 companies in Australia and overseas who look after the material interests of the project. Our 700 odd members have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the project. Some six million dollars in cash and kind has been invested in the project to date.

The serious work of restoring the hundreds of pieces of furnishings and fittings is now underway. Engine cowlings, engine nacelles, the nose assembly including turret, the upper turret and the ball turret are well along in their preparation. The wing tips, wing trailing edges, cockpit canopy and glass, major wing access panels, wing leading edges and the flight deck are components that are all well underway towards completion. In many instances, these parts are manufactured from scratch, as there are no other parts available.

Also manufactured from scratch are the tail fins, elevators and rudders. For these items, we used old units recovered from the jungles of Papua New Guinea as patterns. All of the new parts used on the aeroplane are faithful factory replicas of the original factory parts. In our search for parts we have traveled some 400,000 kilometers and crossed the world on half a dozen occasions.

There are no drawings available for our aircraft and virtually no photographic records. So, much of the travelling has been done to recover parts that although they themselves are beyond repair, they do make patterns from which to build new components.

Two of our engines, engines three & four, have been serviced and are ready to test run. Work is continuing on engines one & two to free them up for disassembly and overhaul. All of our engines are ex DC-3. Hence they need a considerable amount of modification to fit the B-24 Dynafocal Mounts. The engine mounting system along with the engine plumbing will need modification, to accept the B-24 carburetors, magnetos and turbochargers. The engine accessory cases vary considerably from the DC-3, as do the exhaust systems. The B-24 exhaust system is unique. Therefore, all of the exhaust systems will be a composite of the usable B-24 parts we have found and new components made to match the DC-3 cylinder heads to the B-24 collector rings.

As the restoration proper enters its ninth year almost all of the major engineering challenges are overcome. The last and perhaps the most difficult, the nose assembly, is well on the way to completion. This assembly is perhaps the epitome of a restorer's nightmare. We were unable to find any drawings of an M/R model B-24. There are only two other surviving M model B-24s in the world. Both have been modified to the extent that they are not suitable as patterns for our aircraft. A total of 42 M and five M/R model B-24s were delivered to the Australian Air Force and all but one went to the smelters. There were no photographs in any of the official collections. So, for almost 5 years we worked around the nose area, fervently hoping one would turn up somewhere. Well as you have probably guessed, one did not.

I took the decision some 2 years ago that we would begin construction based on the material we had been able to collect. The material consisted of a few photographs and a some drawings scribbled in maintenance manuals that we had collected from private sources. To build from scratch requires some courage as there are a number of decisions and that have to be made that will have a profound effect on the overall program. The first are that a given amount of precious materials must be devoted to the project. Also, many hundreds of man-hours will be committed to the work and the finished work is often the basis for a number of other smaller projects that rely on the accuracy of the completed work. Tracing rivet lines and having a good understanding of the manufacturers style and technique allows one to develop a substructure that will in almost all cases be very close to original. True and accurate external measurements and appearance are the most difficult to achieve. In the case of our nose assembly, line drawings from a magazine and photographs were all that we had to begin the project. We learnt very quickly that there were at least four different J model nose assemblies produced by the factory. There were several D model and a variety of G and H model variations. This of course did not include the theatre and field modifications.

We had several photographs of North American Aviation built B-24Js; these were the last delivered to the Australian Air Force. In fact these aircraft were built after our Consolidated B-24M and based on that I drew the conclusion that they would be representative of the latest model. Sadly, that conclusion was wrong. When some 12 months later and well into the nose assembly construction a visitor delivered to our hangar two very clear photographs of an M/R model Liberator. This aircraft was in fact A72-175, the aircraft immediately ahead of ours on the production line.

I saw immediately that all of the previous work done was incorrect. It was patently obvious that the M/R model had a nose assembly significantly longer than the late J model. Four inches to be exact. Fortunately, one photograph was taken at 90 degrees to the fuselage. Another was a close-up of the complete nose assembly. These photographs allowed us to do some very accurate scale drawings. While these drawings were being prepared, we recovered an M/R modification parts list, which had in it a very crude drawing of the turret substructure. This at least showed that the original work we had done on the substructure was correct, if not completely accurate to the dimensions. One year further on and the new nose assembly is nearing completion.

The above is just a small picture of what the ground up restoration of a large airframe entails. Australia's B-24 project represents an enormous investment in manpower, materials and logistical support. We are now some 2 years away from completing the aircraft. Restoration of the internal structures is nearing completion and work has begun on the fittings and furnishings. Here again difficulties arise. It seems our airframe had a substantially different interior layout than almost all other B-24s. Our B-24M/R was one of only a very small number to be built and an even smaller number to have been delivered to Australia. Included in the 47 M models delivered were only five M/R models. Factory fitted with radar, radar jamming and radio jamming equipment, as well as the normal complement of equipment for a standard M model bomber ensured that internally our airframe differed greatly from virtually all others.

The positions of the crew and the number of crew, up to 14, varied greatly compared to the norm. Outside of the E.C.M equipment, the standard equipment remained almost the same. The M/R shared equipment from almost all of the models that went before. The ammunition delivery and weapons mounting systems were similar to the L model. The tunnel gun arrangement was from the early D model. Radio transmitting and receiving equipment were similar to the North American J model. The oxygen system we believe is unique to our particular model. From just the short list above one can see that fitting out our particular model is quite difficult. We are still searching for many of the internal pieces of our airframe. Some items that have eluded us to date are the Phenolic Resin ammunition boxes for the nose turret, tail turret and the waist guns. These ammunition boxes were the same as supplied in the L model. We have also been unable to find the unusual "Coffee Can" gun mounts for the waist guns. The flight engineers hatch, engine management instruments, cockpit map case, and a multitude of other smaller pieces still need to be found to complete the internal fittings. Perhaps the most important items we need are main wheels, tyres and tubes. We have quite a number of tyre and wheel assemblies but none are serviceable.

We would appreciate any assistance in locating these items. One of the vagaries of this type of restoration is that one inevitably needs more than one of any item to restore a part to working order.

If you have information regarding components that may assist with the B-24 project. please contact:

B-24 Liberator Memorial Restoration Fund
PO Box 34
Cowes, VIC 3922
Phone: 61-3-5956 7952
E-mail: ceegrey@nex.net.au

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