The Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer's-Navilised Liberator
By Willie Bodenstein
Not one of the best-known Maritime patrol bombers of WWII, the PBY-2 Privateer entered service with the United States Navy (USN) in 1943 and served during WWII and the Korean War as a patrol bomber. It went on to serve in various guises until 2002.
Externally similar from the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber from which it was derived, the Privateer differed by having a longer fuselage and a single tall vertical stabiliser in place of the B-24's twin tail configuration. The B-24's belly turret was also omitted. However, armament on the Privateer was increased to twelve .50-in (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns in six turrets, two dorsal, two waist and one each in the nose and tail. Turbo superchargers were not fitted to the engines, since maritime patrol missions were not usually flown at high altitude.
The USN received most of its 739 Privateers after the end of the war in Europe. However, several squadrons saw service in the Pacific theatre where deployment began on 6 January 1945, with operations in the Marianas where they served successfully in the reconnaissance, search and rescue, electronic countermeasures and communication relay roles. Offensive missions in the anti-shipping role along the Chinese coast and beyond Okinawa in the north were flown out of Clark Field in the Philippines.
The Privateer switched roles from being a hunter of ships to hunting typhoons and hurricanes. Six hurricane hunters were lost during operations. Only one, number 59415 that experienced mechanical problems while investigating a Category 1 typhoon near Batan Island in the Philippines and attempted a landing on the island, was ever found.
In the east, trouble was brewing in Korea and United Nations Forces were soon in action and so was the Privateer. During the conflict, Privateers flew signals intelligence (SIGINT) flights off of the coast of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. One Privateer, the Turbulent Turtle on a SIGINT mission, was shot down by a Soviet La-11 fighter off the coast of Latvia. Others flew ďFirefly" night illumination missions, dropping parachute flares to detect North Korean and Chinese seaborne infiltrators.
The USN retired all its PB4Y-2's in 1954, except for a number of unarmed PB4Y-2G's that went on to serve until 1958 with the Coast Guard before they too were auctioned off for salvage.
A number of PB4Ys were supplied to the Republic of China Air Force for use during the conflict in that country where Republican forces were battling Communists forces. One Privateer was lost to ground fire while another was downed by a Burmese Hawker Sea Fury.
A number of retired USN Privateers were purchased by firefighting operators and refitted as air tankers for dropping fire retardant on forest fires throughout the western United States. On 18 July 2002, number 66260 broke up in flight while fighting a wildfire near Rocky Mountain National Park. Following the accident, all remaining Privateers were retired.
Of the 739 Privateers built, only N2871G that was sold to its present owner, 4Y-2 LLC, in 2006 when the Hawkins and Powers assets were auctioned off, are currently airworthy. N2871G, which was placed into aerial tanker service from 1959 to 1969, flew as a tanker with Avery Aviation. In July 1969, Hawkins and Powers Aviation, also of Greybull, purchased the aircraft and which flew until 2006.
She arrived at GossHawk Unlimited in 2010 after being purchased at auction, still in orange and white fire bomber configuration and remained in that livery for about three more years while work proceeded to restore her. Rather than have the aircraft down for many years of deep restoration, there is a preference to perform ad hoc work while keeping the Privateer available for flying during some of the air show season.
She was being prepared to fly to Oshkosh 2014, but issues in two of its four Wright R-2600-35 engines ended those hopes. The problems were solved and on 20 February 2015, she flew again and made her debut at Oshkosh 2015. The owners haven't quite settled on what the final scheme will represent, whether it be for a US Coast Guard or Navy unit. Structurally, the PB4Y-2 is configured more or less as she was while serving in the Coast Guard, but there is talk that the owners may choose to represent a Coast Guard squadron on one side, and a Navy one on the other, since if properly designed, it would be nearly impossible to see both sides at the same time.