Lockheed PV-1 Ventura: High-Performance Multirole Aircraft

U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber
U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura patrol bomber in flight, circa 1943

Birth of the Ventura

Conceived in 1941 as a patrol bomber derivative of the Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar commercial transport, the Ventura was a testament to Lockheed’s design genius. In less than a year, its engineering team transformed a civilian plane into a military marvel.

Lockheed replaced the Lodestar’s 1,200-horsepower Wright R-1820 engines with two potent 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engines. This tweak catapulted the Ventura into a league of high-performance aircraft. Lockheed also equipped it with advanced radio and radar systems, an internal bomb bay, and mounted machine guns for protection and attack.

U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura
U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 Ventura (BuNo 29724) in flight, circa in late 1943. Note the evidence of the change from the 1942-43 insignia to the later “star and bar” pattern and the Donald Duck cartoon on the aft fuselage

The Double Wasp

The true beating heart of the PV-1 Ventura was the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine. With its 2,000 horsepower output and 18 cylinders arranged in a double radial configuration, it was the engine that set the Ventura apart. It gave the aircraft a top speed of 315 mph, propelling it ahead of many other patrol bombers of the time. Yet, its superior power did more than just improve speed. It also allowed the Ventura to carry a hefty load of bombs, torpedoes, or depth charges, depending on the mission.

Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp
Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp Photo: Dsdugan

Serving in the Skies

The PV-1 Ventura was the epitome of versatility, serving in various air forces across the globe. First used by the United States Navy, it fulfilled numerous roles, from maritime patrol to anti-submarine warfare. The Royal Air Force also incorporated Venturas into their arsenal. Initially used as day bombers, they were later repurposed for training and transport duties as newer, more advanced aircraft became available.

However, it was perhaps in the Royal New Zealand Air Force that the Ventura found its most extraordinary role. Here, it served as the primary long-range patrol bomber in the Pacific theater, carrying out bombing raids against Japanese bases and providing critical reconnaissance data to allied forces.

The Many Names of the Ventura

The Lockheed PV-1 Ventura has been known by a few different monikers and designations. In the United States, it was initially referred to as the B-34 “Lexington”, named after the American Revolutionary War Battle of Lexington. But when transferred to the Navy, the designation changed to PV-1 Ventura, with “PV” standing for Patrol Bomber and “V” for manufacturer Lockheed’s Vega subsidiary.

Besides this, the RAF also recognized it under specific designations. For maritime patrolling tasks, it was known as the “Ventura GR.V,” and in its capacity as a medium bomber, it carried the label “Ventura Mk.II.”

PV-1 in 1944
PV-1 in 1944 Photo: Navyav8r17

The Ventura in Flight

The Ventura was a machine of performance, but it demanded skill from its pilot. With its robust engine and heavy payload, it exhibited great speed and reach but was also known for its challenging handling. Pilots reported a heavy control response at high speeds and during landings, making the Ventura a demanding aircraft to master. Yet, in the right hands, the Ventura could exploit its power and speed to perform dive-bombing attacks or evade enemy fighters, marking its unique place in the theater of war.

VB-135 PV-1 Ventura Whidbey Island 1943
VB-135 PV-1 Ventura Whidbey Island 1943 Photo: Navyav8r17

The Ventura’s Shortcomings

Despite its many strengths, the Ventura had its share of shortcomings. Its greatest setback was its limited high-altitude performance. When compared to aircraft like the de Havilland Mosquito, the Ventura couldn’t reach the same operational altitudes, making it vulnerable to enemy anti-aircraft fire during bombing missions.

Another shortcoming was its restricted maneuverability due to its heavy weight. This issue, coupled with its demanding handling, meant that the Ventura was not an ideal choice for dogfighting situations. Despite these weaknesses, the Ventura provided invaluable service throughout the war, proving that even with its limitations, it was a force to be reckoned with.

Lockheed B-34
Lockheed B-34 No. 272 in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)