The maritime patrol bomber in World War 2 (1939-1945) was of particular value to the Japanese and the Americans in the vast expanse of the Pacific Theater of War. As such, both sides invested heavily in modified and purpose-built aircraft types intended to turn the tide of the war in their respective favors. Ultimately, the Americans won out with a healthy stable of such aircraft that included the oft-forgetten contributions of the PB4Y-2 "Privateer" line.
The PB4Y-2 was developed by Consolidated Aircraft as a dedicated over-water, maritime patrol platform to fulfill a requirement by United States Navy (USN). The existing Consolidated B-24 "Liberator" heavy bomber (detailed elsewhere on this site) was used as the basis for the new aircraft and incorporated several changes to meet the rigors of over-water flying and combat. The Privateer series was introduced during the thick of the fighting in 1943 and was produced to the tune of 739 examples into 1945. The aircraft continued in service well into the 1950s for the Americans, eventually taking part in bloody Korean War (1950-1953) and the Cold War (1947-1991) that followed, before being retired in full by the 1960s mainly through foreign operators.
Up to 1943, the USN was simply operating standard B-24 Liberator bombers in the vital maritime patrol role, these under the designation of "PB4Y-1 Liberator)". However, as the demand for over-water patrolling increased against the naval power of the Empire of Japan, it was decided that an economically-minded dedicated platform was required. Familiarity with the Liberator series on the part of the USN made the heavy, land-based, four-engined bomber an excellent candidate for they could carry large bomb loads and ranged far from home base - perfect qualities for operating over the vast expanses of the Pacific Theater. Due to their size, the bombers were be operated strictly by the USN from land bases.
The basic appearance of the Liberator bomber was largely retained in the revision process - save for the twin-rudder tail arrangement being simplified to a single-rudder unit (this originally trialed with an abandoned "B-24N" mark intended for the U.S. Army Air Force). The fuselage was lengthened some to accommodate a workspace for the flight engineer's station but the aircraft continued use of the high-winged mainplanes, each carrying a pair of underslung engine nacelles driving three-bladed propeller units. The standard tricycle undercarriage of the B-24 was also retained for ground-running. The nose section was noticeably stepped (as in the B-24) and led by a powered ball turret at the extreme front. The cockpit sat its two pilots side-by-side with a powered dorsal turret immediately behind and above the pair. Another power-assisted turret was placed further aft along the dorsal spine of the aircraft and additional turrets were added as bulging blisters to the aft fuselage sides. The tail carried additional defensive armament in the form of yet another powered gun emplacement. Unlike the B-24 series, the Privateer did not retain the retractable ventral "belly" turret of the B-24.
All told there were 12 x 0.50 caliber Browning M2 Heavy Machine Guns (HMGs) in the new design and a total of six power-operated turret emplacements giving the heavy bomber excellent all-round protection from marauding enemy interceptors. Up to 12,800lb of conventional drop bombs, naval mines, depth charges and torpedoes could be carried in the belly of the bomber.
Beyond this, a full Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) suite was installed and this led to the addition of various antenna and sensor blisters/protrusions being seen about the fuselage. Additional communications gear was carried internally and a retractable radome was fitted just aft of the nose wheel - to be deployed as needed.
The crew numbered eleven men charged with various tasks aboard their large aircraft. Dimensions included a length of 74.6 feet, a wingspan of 110 feet and a height of 30 feet. Empty weight was 27,500lb against an MTOW of 65,000lb.
Power was from 4 x Pratt & Whitney R-1830-94 air-cooled radial piston engines developing 1,350 horsepower each. Maximum speed was 300 miles per hour with cruising closer to 175 mph. Range was out to 2,820 miles and a service ceiling of 21,000 feet was possible. The lack of a turbosupercharger on each engine meant that the aircraft was relegated to low-level operation - which was negligible as the mission role generally required this and the lack of the power equipment saved on weight.
NOTE: The official PB4Y-2 "Privateer" designation was not applied to the series until a USN change in 1951. Up to this point, the PB4Y-1 "Liberator" name was used.
The series was first-proven through three YPB4Y-2 prototypes developed for trials and this led to the definitive PB4Y-2 models of which 736 examples were completed. The following PB4Y-2B mark was equipped to launch the ASM-N-2 "Bat" air-to-surface missile / glide bomb series and later (1951 onwards) came to be known as the P4Y-2B. The PB4Y-2M were converted PB4Y-2 models modified for the weather reconnaissance role and these, similarly, became P4Y-2M in the 1951 revision. The PB4Y-2S identified PB4Y-2S platforms equipped with an anti-submarine radar system and eventually became P4Y-2S in 1951. The PB4Y-2G were PB4Y-2 models modified for the SAR / weather reconnaissance roles with the USCG in the post-war world and evolved as the P4Y-2G in 1951. The final models were the PB4Y-2K modified for the target drone role ultimately becoming the P4Y-2K in 1951 and, finally, the QP-4B in 1962.
Once in service, the investment in the Privateer paid immediate dividends for the U.S. Navy where they were used in a myriad of roles including anti-ship / anti-submarine, general reconnaissance, communications relay work, countermeasures, and vital Search-and-Rescue (SAR). They were well defended with their multiple machine gun posts and could range out for thousands of miles.
While introduced as soon as 1943, the series did not make its impact until 1944 when quantitative force levels were being reached in the USN inventory. In the post-war world, they served in the critical weather reconnaissance role and were still in play at the time of the Korean War of the early-1950s. Further into its career, the aircraft was also used in the SIGnals INTelligence (SIGINT) role as the "Cold War' with the Soviet Union began to "heat up". Indeed, one PB4Y-2 was claimed by Soviet fighters over the Baltic Sea in April of 1950 - such was the tension of the period where any single event to erupt into open world war once again.
In 1954, the Privateer was given up by the USN as the age of the jet had officially arrived. The United States Coast Guard (USCG), another notable Privateer operator, and managed their fleet into the late-1950s before following suit. Many bombers then ended their days as expendable drones (a "K" applied to the end of their designations, until 1962, to which point they became "QP-4B"). Others ended their careers in fire-fighting roles where their large bomb holds could carry vast amounts of fire-fighting liquids.
Beyond American use of the aircraft, the bomber was employed in action by the militaries of France and the Republic of China (Taiwan) where they managed mixed results. Canada and Honduras were other key players in the Privateer story.
Canada; China (Taiwan); France; Honduras; United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Special-Mission: Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy underwater elements by way of specialized onboard equipment and weapons.
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy surface elements through visual acquisition, radar support, and onboard weaponry.
✓Special-Mission: Search & Rescue (SAR)
Ability to locate and extract personnel from areas of potential harm or peril (i.e. downed airmen in the sea).
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
74.6 ft (22.75 m)
110.1 ft (33.55 m)
30.1 ft (9.17 m)
27,558 lb (12,500 kg)
65,036 lb (29,500 kg)
+37,479 lb (+17,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer production variant)
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in forward dorsal turret.
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in rearward dorsal turret.
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in nose turret.
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in tail turret.
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in left waist blister position.
2 x 12.7mm machine guns in right waist blister position.
Up to 12,800 pounds of internally-held drop stores including bombs, depth charges, naval mines and torpedoes.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 0
B-24 "Liberator" - Base Consolidated Design utilized in development of the PB4Y-1 and PB4Y-2 aircraft for the United States Navy.
PB4Y-1 - USN Anti-Submarine Variant
PB4Y-1G - Former USN PB4Y-1/-2G models utilized by the US Coast Guard service branch as patrol platforms; sans guns.
PB4Y-2 "Privateer" - USN Long-Range Strategic Reconnaissance Variant.
PB4Y-2G - Former USN PB4Y-1/-2G models utilized by the US Coast Guard service branch as patrol platforms; sans guns.
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry.
Rating is out of a possible 100 points.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (300mph).
Graph average of 225 miles-per-hour.
Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
Max Altitude Visualization
The three qualities reflected above are altitude, speed, and range.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
Unit Production (739)
Compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian).
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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Image from the National Naval Aviation Museum of Pensacola, Florida.
2 / 4
Image from the National Naval Aviation Museum of Pensacola, Florida.
3 / 4
Image from the Public Domain; note underslung Bat missiles.
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