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Sat, Jul 07, 2007

A Tribute To A Volunteer... And 'His' Plane

Restoration Still Underway On PB4Y-2 Privateer

by ANN Warbird Correspondent Tom Griffith

It was during March of 2002 that I first met William D. Jolliffe. I was on an early ANN assignment covering what might be considered an "orphan" warbird: the Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer that had been (and still is) under restoration at the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston, TX for quite a while (15 years or so as this is written).

Bill Jolliffe, a LSFM volunteer who'd taken the big USN bomber on as his "own" project, was given the duty to escort me under, through and on top of the big USN bomber. He also had to answer questions, a LOT of them, from yours truly. Bill knew "a little" about the Privateer. Indeed, as a US Navy enlisted pilot in WWII, he flew thousands of hours in Privateers similar to the one that the LSFM is restoring.

In the dozen or so photos that follow, all but one, the last one, were taken in 2002 when I first met Bill Jolliffe.

Above Bill's name badge are his USN wings. After I met Bill, upon subsequent visits, at least yearly, I always hunted him up to get updates on the Privateer and the Museum in general.

Bill was a genuine WWII combat veteran (I believe his USN career lasted from 1939 to 1948) and that puts him right at the top of the heap as far as mortal beings are concerned with me (with the exception of my own family, but you know what I'm talking about!) I have to say "was" because at the April airshow at Galveston, I couldn't find my old friend and asked another LSFM staff member if "Bill was around."

I was told that Bill had passed away earlier this year, February 23, actually. One knows that WWII veterans are dying at the rate of over 1000 a day, or so I've heard... and on February 23, it was Bill's turn. This little article will feature a few photos of Bill and his beloved Privateer, seemingly a warbird that will take several more years to become airworthy again.

Bill is demonstrating a characteristic of computing gunsights -- he is indicating with his eyes where a gunner would actually see his target in a situation where his own aircraft is moving and the target aircraft is also moving, but in a different direction and at a different speed. The computing gunsight might be directing the gunner to take aim at what seems to be the wrong place in order to hit the moving target.

When I met up with Bill and the PB4Y-2 in 2002 to do the ANN article, the aircraft was in its seemingly permanent spot on the floor of the main hangar at the LSFM. It has easily the TALLEST vertical tail of anything in the hangar. For those who are not quite fans of this big warbird (at least not yet!), the PB4Y-2 is basically a B-24 Liberator bomber with two noticeable differences between it and the B-24: the B-24 has twin tails and the PB4Y-2 has one TALL tail (the tip of its tail is 30 feet off the ground when it's parked - that's about 10 feet taller than its hangar-mate, the B-17-G Flying Fortress. It's even a couple feet taller than that of our biggest WWII bomber, the B-29 Superfortress!), and it sports a fuselage that is 7 feet, 2 inches longer than that of the B-24. They both share the same beautiful wing, with its Davis airfoil. The earlier model PB4Y-1s very closely resembled the B-24 from which they were derived (albeit with non-turbocharged engines since the USN versions wouldn't need to fly at the altitudes of the USAAF B-24s in everyday operations), but with the Dash 2 model, that big tail and longer fuselage came along. This particular PB4Y-2, and a few others like it, had been (one still is, or was, depending upon where you look it up) used as fire bombers in Arizona, and other places in the western USA. The LSFM Privateer had been converted to carry fire-fighting chemicals and had battled many blazes between 1959 (two years after being "demilled" by the USN, which changed its designation in the 1950s to "P4Y-2") and 1991 (when the LSFM acquired it).

Even though the Privateer is a big aircraft, the vertical tail seems to be even a little too big when compared to the rest of the aircraft.  It's not evident from this photo, but take a look at the last photo and you'll see what I'm talking about. The spiral staircase in the background seems to have been installed specifically to give Museum visitors a bird's eye view of the Privateer's tail - no such luck…it leads to the LSFM's library and offices on the third level of the Museum.

When Bill Jolliffe took me on my up-close-and-personal tour of the Privateer, I got a very good look at the nuts-and-bolts of this warbird. Bill knew that besides being a warbird correspondent and photographer, that I, as a private pilot myself, would be interested in a unique feature of the wing on the Liberator and Privateer: the wing is basically one-piece from tip to tip, and where it passes through the fuselage, it still has an airfoil shape! Sure, the rivets are round-headed, not flush like those on the part of the wing that is outside doing all of the lifting, but the airfoil shape is apparent, if someone points it out to you.

This photo was taken from the top of the left wing root. Through the opening one can easily see the airfoil contour of the top of the wing as it passes through the fuselage of the Privateer.

I was also impressed with the hundreds of feet of cable that go from the controls (yoke and rudder pedals) to the control surfaces (sure some of the control surfaces were not even on the aircraft yet, but the cables were installed). I was surprised to see that they seemed to be the same diameter of those on the little Cessna 150 that I had been part-owner in, once upon a time. I'd have expected cables at LEAST twice as thick. The cables that actuate the throttles, mixture, propellers and other engine/propeller controls/accessories are even smaller! And, there seemed to be dozens of them! Don't even get me started about the electrical wiring! Paul Johnson, whom I met that same day in 2002, was busy preparing wiring "runs" to be installed in the big bomber. That was 5 years ago and they still have more wiring to put into it, I think.

Paul Johnson is "stamping" a code on the plastic insulation on otherwise plain white electrical wiring with a specialized "tool." This handy little device uses its tiny 450 degree F branding iron to brand a specific pattern (chosen by the operator, naturally) onto individual wires. The operator pulls the entire length of wire (it may be dozens of feet long) through the device and imprints the brand onto the insulation every 15 inches, and the pattern that is stamped on the wire is recorded in a notebook so they'll know which pattern goes from what switch or controller to what light or other electrical device.  A number of virtually unlimited branding patterns can be applied to wires using this simple method. Using this marking method, a bundle of wires, all being the same color and size, can be "read" by the electrician doing the wiring by simply reading the brand on individual wires, and then hooking up the electricals correctly without trial and error, AND, without having to have a bazillion colors of insulated wires (to say nothing about making it easier on color-blind folks, such as your humble correspondent).

When I think about the complexity of even these "ancient" aircraft, it amazes me that even ONE big aircraft a week, let alone many each day, were produced during the War. Hats off to the men and women who couldn't serve our country in the military during WWII, and their employers, our wartime aviation industries. Thanks to their concerted efforts, they filled the skies with over 100,000 aircraft in the WWII years -- we couldn't have won the War without them.

To maintain authenticity, the LSFM's Privateer has had power turrets built to operational condition and installed in the big bomber. As a fire-bomber, it had no turrets or gun positions and the Museum had to either find surplus ones, and restore/rebuild them, OR, start from scratch and build new ones. In this photo, Paul Johnson is showing me the progress on the rear turret restoration. He is holding a piece of 2-inch thick "armoured" Plexiglas that helps to protect the gunner in this turret. The LSFM restoration effort is very authentic - they could have used a "thin" piece of regular Plexiglas, but they always strive for accuracy in their restorations, so the special piece had to be made for this particular installation. At the time of the photo, the turret obviously was not installed, but I know that it has been in place for a while now.

I had asked Bill about the enormous tires on the Privateer (I learned that the Privateer's mains are the same as those on the B-17 Flying Fortress) and he noticed something that looked "funny" on the wheel, and discussed the problem with Paul. Paul is an A&P/I technician, among other things, and between the two of them, no squawk gets past them. This plane obviously came to the Museum with a squawk list that looked something like the New York City Yellow Pages, after the likes of Bill, Paul, et al were finished looking her over. The big microphone-looking thing is the oil cooler of engine No. 3 - I know that you thought Bill was saying something into a big microphone like, "pay no attention to that man behind the camera."

With engine No. 3 overhead (that's the oil cooler for the BIG Wright R-2600 Double Cyclone radial engine in the far right of the photo), Paul listens intently to the LSFM's authority on the Privateer. Paul is also a pilot, and this, coupled with his A &P/I credentials, has helped make the restoration get as far as it has gotten.

From my vantage point on the left wing, the No. 2 R-2600 engine can be seen, as well as the front part of the Privateer's fuselage. Nuts and bolts note: the original PB4Ys all had Pratt and Whitney R-1830 engines on them, but the surplus ones used by the fire-fighting companies converted them to power from Wright R-2600 engines that basically were QECs (Quick Engine Change units) from B-25 Mitchells. The R-2600s that were intended to be installed in the Mitchells were bolted onto the wings of the PB4Ys and instantly added about 1,400 HP total to the airframe while adding only a few hundred more pounds. They were nick-named "Super Privateers" by the firm in Canyon, TX that did most of the conversions to the ex-military Privateers. This greatly increased the gross weight limits on the fire-bombers and enabled them to carry considerably more water or other fire-fighting chemicals in their modified "bomb-bays." By the way, that's the LSFM's B-17-G "Thunder Bird" in the top left of the photo and on the opposite side of the photo we see the P-38-L "Putt Putt Maru," which has since been sold (sad note!)

This photo shows the Fowler flaps of the Privateer. Fowler flaps are operated by screw jacks and follow curved tracks out from the trailing edge of the wings. Cessna 150s and other small Cessnas also have Fowler flaps, so I at least recognized ONE feature of the big bird.

Here we see your ANN reporter and Paul Johnson, posing on the left wing of the Privateer. The funny little device attached to the top of the wing in the lower left part of the photo is part of the main fuel tank vent system.

All of the above photos were taken by me in 2002, and the final photo was taken by me in April of this year. The big Consolidated bomber hasn't changed a lot, visually, with the exception of the power turrets and side guns being installed and nearly ready to go. The engines seem to come and go - since the B-25 uses the same engine, they've had to, shall we say, "borrow" and engine or two from the Privateer to keep the B-25 flying.

This is the Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer in April 2007 (it's looked basically like this for waaaay too long -- in honor of Bill Jolliffe and the volunteers and other staff at LSFM, let's all get behind this project and get her back into the air ASAP. Like the song says, "all it takes is time and money.").

Speaking of the Lone Star Flight Museum and its staff, I inquired at the Museum about just what volunteers mean to the overall effort. Larry Gregory, the head honcho at LSFM, e-mailed the following to me: "As a rule, we receive around 30-35,000 service hours a year from our volunteers. They are magnificent and we couldn't keep the lights on much less fly anything without them. They come from varied backgrounds and do incredible things for us." Larry said it all in only three sentences!

One final word about Bill Jolliffe: he was an enlisted pilot, a Chief Petty Officer, I believe. Enlisted pilots were pretty rare in the US Navy. This gives Bill a unique perspective in his current location. I'm sure that Bill, my dad, my uncles and my wife's uncles are in heaven sharing "war stories" and trying to convince the other guys just which branch of the service actually won the War.

Blue skies and tailwinds be with you, my friend.

FMI: www.lsfm.org

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