02 February 2010

Initially deemed unsuitable as night bombers by the RAF, the first Consolidated LB-30 Liberators were found with their long range to be ideal in the transport role. In mid-1941 the North Atlantic Return Ferry Service began to bring RAF flight crews to Canada where they would pick up US Lend-Lease aircraft to fly back to Europe. As a result, the Liberator was the first aircraft to make the North Atlantic crossing carrying passengers on a regular service. On 24 September 1941 BOAC took over the North Atlantic services from the RAF and also took on the Liberator transports.

The BOAC Liberators wore either civil registrations or RAF roundels but could be identified by the Speedbird logo on the nose of the aircraft. Flights connected Prestwick with St-Hubert in Quebec via Gander, Newfoundland. In January 1942 the first BOAC Liberators started passenger services to Cairo (via North Africa) and in the following year passenger services extended to Moscow (via North Africa and Iran to avoid occupied Europe).

By 1947 the RAF had already withdrawn its own Liberators from service but BOAC continued use of the Liberator in cargo services London and Montreal via Prestwick and Gander. From 4 February to 28 May 1948 BOAC inaugurated nonstop Liberator service between London and Montreal using inflight air-refueling. Flight Refueling Limited, an early pioneer in aerial refueling, purchased four Avro Lancastrians from Trans-Canada Airlines and converted them into refueling tankers. Two of them were based in Shannon, Ireland, and the other two were based in Newfoundland. The Liberators flying eastbound needed only a single refueling usually about 200 miles east of Gander. Flying westbound, two refuelings were needed to fly against prevailing winds- the first one 200 miles west of Shannon and the second one in the vicinity of Goose Bay, Labrador.

Of forty-five refuelings, only three were aborted- one due to radar and heating problems in the tanker, one due to fuel transfer problems and a third one due to a nervous BOAC captain who refused to carry out the aerial rendezvous! Despite the success of the trials and Flight Refueling's attempt to convince BOAC that aerial refueling was feasible for civilian flights, BOAC instead opted to use Lockheed Constellations and Boeing Stratocruisers to carry out nonstop North Atlantic services.

Source: International Air Power Review, Volume 15. AIRtime Publishing, 2005, "RAF Liberators at War- Part 1: UK-based Operations" by Jon Lake, p160-161, 172-173.

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