The Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express: From Bomber to Transport

Liberator Express Consolidated C-87
Liberator Express Consolidated C-87

A Unique Transformation

It is a common practice in aviation history to convert transport aircraft into bombers to meet wartime needs. However, a lesser-known fact is that the Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express took the opposite route. Converted from the well-known B-24 bomber, the C-87 was redesigned to serve as a transport aircraft, fulfilling a unique role in aviation history.

LB-30 Liberator with RAF Serial under Air Transport Command
LB-30 Liberator with RAF Serial under Air Transport Command

Why Convert a Bomber?

During the frantic pace of World War II, the landscape of conflict underwent rapid changes. In the initial stages, bombers like the B-24 were crucial for targeting strategic enemy locations. But as the war progressed and many key targets were leveled, there were fewer strategic sites left to bomb. Concurrently, the urgent need for cargo and personnel transport grew, calling for a creative solution.

Recognizing the capabilities of the existing B-24 bomber, the U.S. military decided to convert it into a cargo transport, giving birth to the C-87. The bomber’s strong airframe and existing design, tested and proven in combat, allowed for a quick transformation into a transport plane. This strategic adaptation not only made use of existing resources but also catered to the evolving demands of the war, showcasing the military’s agility and foresight in responding to the ever-changing needs of the battlefield.

The bomber’s large bomb bay was perfect for hauling cargo, and the airplane was readily adapted to carry fuel and personnel. By removing the bombing equipment and armament, the C-87 was capable of fulfilling logistics and transportation roles that were vital during the war.

Consolidated C-87
Consolidated C-87


The C-87 was powered by four turbo-supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines, the same as the B-24 bomber. This engine was known for its reliability and performance, offering a power output of 1,200 horsepower each.

These engines gave the C-87 the ability to carry heavy loads over long distances. The familiar roar of the engines became a symbol of the tireless work done by the C-87 during its service life, hauling crucial supplies across different theatres of the war.

Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial aero engine
Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial aero engine on display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford Photo:

Operational Use 

The C-87’s primary role was as a cargo and personnel transport, but its adaptability allowed it to fulfill various missions. From transporting essential supplies to carrying wounded soldiers back from battle, the C-87 was a versatile addition to the military’s transport fleet.

Its ability to fly long distances made it a valuable asset for crossing oceans and supporting overseas operations. Though the C-87 faced challenges, including handling issues and a less-than-perfect safety record, its significant contributions to wartime logistics cannot be overlooked.

C-87A VIP Transport

In 1942 and 1943, several C-87 aircraft underwent luxurious transformations, turning them into VIP transports with added insulation, padded seats, and dividers. Designated as C-87A, these aircraft could carry 16 passengers in style.

One C-87A, the Guess Where II, was intended for President Franklin D. Roosevelt but was declined by the Secret Service due to safety concerns. It later served senior members of the Roosevelt administration and even transported Eleanor Roosevelt on a goodwill tour of Latin American countries.

View of the production line of the Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express transport, in late 1942
View of the production line of the Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express transport, in late 1942

A One-of-a-Kind Conversion

The XC-87B, also known as “Pinocchio,” was a special modification involving an extended fuselage and low altitude engine packages. Created from a damaged B-24D, this particular transport underwent further alterations, including a single tailfin and Privateer-type engine packages.

This conversion demonstrated the adaptability of the B-24 design and the willingness of engineers to experiment and innovate to meet unique needs. The XC-87B stands as an enduring testament to the creativity and resourcefulness of aviation engineers during World War II.