Discovery Channel-Great Planes: Consolidated B-24 Liberator (1988)

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Released 23-Sep-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 59:42
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By None Given
Studio
Distributor
Discovery Channel
Magna Home Entertainment
Starring None Given
Case Click
RPI $19.95 Music None Given


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (128Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Continuing the occasional wanderings through the back catalogue releases in the Great Planes series sees one of the forgotten 'planes of the Second World War come under the spotlight. The United States had three major four-engined heavy bombers in its arsenal during the Second World War. Everyone remembers the famous Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, built in large numbers and a huge contributor through the massed bomber raids over Germany during the latter part of the war. Everyone remembers its successor, the equally famous Boeing B-29 Superfortress, best known for dropping the two atomic bombs that brought the war to an abrupt end. But many would have a hard time naming the other large four-engined bomber of the United States.

    Yet it was built in larger numbers than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, it served in more roles than either of the two aforementioned 'planes and more than did its bit in the massed raids over Germany. It was almost exclusively used on some even more important raids than the massed raids over Germany - the raids from North Africa to destroy the major oil refineries at Ploesti in Romania, from which Germany received most of its oil supplies. Like more than the odd great 'plane of the period, the design came into being in a roundabout way - and was not entirely unconnected to the design of a wing.

    Consolidated Aircraft in the mid-1930's was a relatively recent company perhaps best known for its PBY Catalina flying boat. The company was approached by a freelance aeronautical engineer, David R. Davis, who had designed a new type of wing aerofoil based around a long, narrow chord design with a thick shoulder. It was claimed that this new wing design gave a far better performance than existing wing designs. Consolidated was not entirely convinced but eventually Consolidated President Reuben H. Fleet agreed to buy the design and fund the construction of a test model and wind tunnel testing at Cal Tech. The results were so unbelievable that it was initially thought that the Cal Tech wind tunnel was screwed and a second series of tests were conducted after the wind tunnel had been recalibrated. With the tests being such a resounding success, it was decided to use the wing on Consolidated's new flying boat, the four-engined Model 31 PB4Y. That aircraft was not a real success, but it introduced two vital elements: that wing and the twin tail design.

    At the time (being 1938) the looming likelihood of war in Europe saw the United States Army Air Corps approach Consolidated about becoming a second source supplier for its then favourite 'plane - the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Consolidated considered the proposal but ultimately rejected it and made another suggestion: how about we build you a better 'plane? You can imagine the effect such a statement had on the USAAC brass given how good the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was. So, in January 1939 Fleet told his designer Frank W. Fink that they were to build a wooden mock up of a "better bomber" than the B-17 - and that this mock up had to be ready in fourteen days! The new aircraft was to use the Davis aerofoil wing, the twin tail from the Model 31, the engine nacelles from the PBY Catalina and a new fuselage with two bomb bays - each as large as the bomb bay of the B-17. The wooden mock up was available within the time frame and the USAAC issued a specification calling for a bomber capable of carrying 3,000 pounds of weapons over 3,000 miles and at over 300 m.p.h. - and responses were required in twenty one days. Naturally the only responding company was Consolidated as their Model 32 was already designed to those specifications. The contract for construction of the prototype was signed on 30th March, 1939 and the prototype XB-24 first flew on 29th December, 1939. By then of course the war in Europe had started.

    The British and the French were the first to sign for the aircraft as they desperately pursued the upgrading of their air forces. The French order was transferred to the British upon the surrender of France in 1940, and the aircraft - given the name Liberator by the British in accordance with their standard policy - went into service shortly thereafter. The initial six aircraft were assigned to British Overseas Airways Corporation for the specific task of ferrying pilots across the North Atlantic. At the time, the B-24 Liberator was the only aircraft that could fly the North Atlantic non-stop and the BOAC aircraft were used to ferry the pilots back to the United States after delivering aircraft to England. It was this large range (thanks to that big fuselage and new wing) that gave the aircraft its big first role - as anti-submarine patrol aircraft with the Coastal Command of the Royal Air Force. Germany deployed large numbers of U-Boats in the North Atlantic to maraud British convoys from 1939. They had things pretty much their own way until the Liberator arrived as there was an effective gap of 300 miles in the North Atlantic that could not be covered by aircraft patrols. The Liberator closed that gap and the U-Boat threat diminished. When the Liberators were withdrawn from the role in 1941, U-Boat activity increased again... The Liberators returned in 1942 and spent the rest of the war in that vital anti-submarine role.

    By the time of Pearl Harbor, the B-24 was just becoming operational with the USAAF and it was intended that thanks to its greater range, speed and load carrying capacity that the B-24 would supplant the B-17 and become the only bomber used in all but the 8th Air Force in England. Whilst this plan never fully actioned, it is true that the B-17 was never a major player in the Pacific, whereas the B-24 was the predominant player until the arrival of the B-29. It was also in the Asia-Pacific that the versatility of the aircraft was very much brought to the fore and aside from its primary role of long range bombing, it took on all sorts of roles. Thanks to the high wing design, the tricycle undercarriage and that cavernous fuselage that resulted therefrom, as well as its great performance, the B-24 quickly found itself in use as a pure transport (C-87) and as a tanker (C-109) in particular - and it was in that role that the aircraft was best remembered. It was in this role that the aircraft became the predominant contributor to the famed "Hump" operations over the Himalayas, supplying Allied forces in China from bases in South East Asia. In addition, the aircraft served as photographic reconnaissance aircraft (designated F-7) as well as in air-sea rescue, maritime patrol, personnel transport and a variety of other support roles.

    As a result of its versatility, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and its offspring could arguably be considered the most versatile aircraft of the Second World War.

    Its production was contained completely within the war period - starting in December, 1939 and finishing in May, 1945. By the time production ceased there had been built some 19,256 aircraft of all variants - making it the most produced American aircraft of the Second World War. The aircraft had performed admirably in every role it was given. Perhaps its most important role, however, was in the attacks on Ploesti from North Africa. The only bomber available at the time with the range to handle the mission, the initial raid in August, 1942 involved 166 bombers flying at low level to avoid German radar. 54 of the bombers were lost but enough damage was done to restrict production for eight months. Thereafter, until the Russians captured the barely operating refineries in 1944, the B-24 was almost exclusively used in high level raids on the refineries. Of all the missions flown during the Second World War, the raids on Ploesti might well be the most important as they restricted the flow of vital fuel supplies to Germany, making a significant contribution to the inability of the Third Reich to wage war.

    Of that vast number of aircraft built, there are very few remaining - probably fewer than 24 and even less in flying condition. I have never seen one and it is the only major bomber of the Second World War that I have not seen. There is apparently one being restored in Victoria, the last remaining of over 288 that served with the Royal Australian Air Force. She might be the "forgotten" bomber of that American trio but she was one of the great planes of the Second World War.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Given the age and nature of the source material here, some of what is seen is really quite remarkable in its quality - especially some of the colour footage of the Aleutians!

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is a little variable as we would expect, ranging in quality from average to good. Some of the archival footage, though, is actually much better looking than I would have expected. Definition is generally good, although as usual some of the in-flight footage is a bit variable. In general detail is better than I was expecting and overall better than the material included in earlier DVDs reviewed from the series. Shadow detail is not much of an issue. The clarity is decent, with grain an issue at times in some of the source material. There does not appear to be any problem with low level noise.

    Comprising mixed footage, the colours are obviously a bit of a mixture. In general, however, it is fair to say that the colour material is somewhat underdone in tonal depth - at times being barely recognisable as colour material. I hasten to add that I am not complaining about this! Given the nature of the source material though, there really is not much to quibble about here.

    There are no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer, nor any significant film-to-video artefacts (a bit of aliasing around 7:19 is about the sum of it). The source material is variably affected by film artefacts, but certainly nothing more than is expected in material of this nature.

    This is a single sided, single layered DVD. There are no subtitle options to accompany the narration.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack.

    The narration comes across very well and it is easy to understand.

    The small amount of musical accompaniment is not credited.

    There is nothing really wrong with the soundtrack, which again does enough to carry the narration and little else. It is reasonably clean and clear, with the usual lack of the underlying aircraft dynamic. Nothing different to what we have had before from this series.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The usual menu audio that is consistent in this series.

Menu

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    It would appear that this DVD has not yet been released in Region 1 - although this is by no means certain.

Summary

    Great Planes: Consolidated B-24 Liberator is a deserving and quite interesting look at one of the "forgotten" aircraft of the Second World War. Much of the material used is new to me, and even stuff that I have seen before remains interesting and valuable. I thought this was quite an interesting programme overall, even though I really wished that a more extensive programme to fully explore the myriad of roles that the 'plane undertook could have been made.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, October 04, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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