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A 'Lil' Change


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For those who think of B-24s, specifically of restored B-24s that are flying today, two aircraft usually spring to mind immediately... the Collings Foundation B-24J, currently named 'Witchcraft', and the Commemorative Air Force LB-30, which has been known as 'Diamond 'Lil' for more than 35 years now.


Well, 'Diamond 'Lil' is no more... at least the name and artwork are no more. And the aircraft itself is receiving a helluva makeover.


The CAF's LB-30 has been viewed with varying degrees of contempt by B-24 lovers and general warbird fans for quite some time because it wasn't a 'real' B-24. Well, I beg to differ with that notion... it is a B-24. It's just received many modifications over the years, mostly during the war.



The quick history of the aircraft is this:


She was originally contracted as a B-24A for the USAAC but was diverted to an order of LB-30s for the French. Shortly thereafter, France fell to Germany and the French order was taken over by the British. The first six aircraft allocated to the British were actually the YB-24 service test airframes, designated as LB-30As. The next twenty aircraft were LB-30Bs, described in Consolidated Aircraft records as 'B-24A conversions'. The CAF's aircraft was the 18th of these 20 LB-30Bs, and was given the British serial 'AM927'.


AM927 was officially bought, paid for, and accepted by the British but remained in the USA for crew training. It was during this time that the aircraft suffered a mishap on landing, and was sent back to Consolidated for repairs. Ultimately it was arranged that the ship be loaned to Consolidated by the British and the airframe was extensively modified as a company transport, being used to run parts and other supplies as well as personnel from place to place within the continental USA.


In this configuration, the aircraft served as something of a prototype and testbed for the C-87 transport version of the B-24, as well as for general development work to improve the basic B-24 design.


Here are a few wartime photos of the aircraft. This first shot shows the original short nose.



USAAF photo via CAF



These two photos show the long nose which was fitted in early 1945. Also, the engines were changed in 1945... being replaced with the same type as used in the PBY Catalina.



USAAF photo via CAF



USAAF photo via CAF


Although the aircraft was originally contracted as a B-24A, the allocated USAAC serial, 40-2366, was never officially issued to the airframe. The only serial officially connected to it was the British serial 'AM927'. So it wasn't long before the aircraft became known as 'Ole 927' wherever it went.


After the war she was owned by a couple different private companies (Continental Can Corp. and Pemex) and used as both an executive transport and as a cargo ship before coming into the possession of the Confederate Air Force in 1968. There's more to it than that, but I don't want to fill up a whole page on the forum.


Anyhoo, 'Ole 927' was dubbed 'Diamond 'Lil' in the early 70s and, except for the replacement of the solid transport nose with a greenhouse unit, it has remained in the same basic configuration... until late 2006, when work began to convert the aircraft back to its originally intended configuration as a B-24A.



Here's a look at 'Lil' in the 1970s, with a modified solid nose that was presumably installed by one of the aircraft's two pre-CAF civilian owners.



Dick Kamm photo (August Horvath collection)



Here's a couple photos showing 'Lil' in 2005...



Project 914 Archives



Project 914 Archives



And here's a look at the tail section, as converted by Consolidated during the war...



Project 914 Archives



Next up... more recent photos...



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In late 2006, work began to convert this aircraft back to its originally intended configuration as a B-24A. The driving force behind the project is a fella named Gary Austin (who has graciously permitted me to use the following photos) but he has had much help by a good number of volunteers who have given their time to help out.


They won't be able to make all of the planned changes before the airshow and tour season starts up again, and I believe that it's going to be a running project that will span a few years, if not more. But much has already been accomplished, including:


Installation of a newly constructed tail gun position (still in progress).


Installation of the tunnel gun in the lower rear fuselage, complete with sighting windows.


Waist gun windows unplugged.


Rebuilt portions of the interior, including cleverly concealed stowage compartments to replace the old bins that were previously out in the open.


Installation of bomb racks. (Bomb bay doors have not been installed and will be a major undertaking!)



Here's a few miscellaneous views of the aircraft as it's progressed over the course of the last couple of weeks. Thanks to Gary Austin for allowing me to use these...


(For those not familiar with the 'tunnel gun', it was simply a hand-held gun mount in the rear lower fuselage which also doubled as a crew entry hatch. The two starboard sighting windows for this gun position are visible in the first two photos.)







The new tail gunner position which is still under construction...




'Mosquito', one of the resident hangar helpers, giving the tail gun position a cat-scan...





The 'tunnel' gun...







A new greenhouse...







More coming...



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Here's a look at the flight deck as it's been until now...





And now the refurbished, albeit unfinished, flight deck...





We've been told that the old name and artwork are out and that a new identity has been chosen for 'Ole 927'. However, all is hush-hush until the aircraft is officially unveiled in May. So, much speculation is taking place as to what the new nose art for the aircraft will be... we've been thrown some vague hints here and there, although some have undoubtedly been meant to throw us off the right track.


A fine example of the latter is illustrated below, as one of the artists uses a 'template' to hash out the basic outline of the new artwork...





Here we see the artists at work, applying the new nose art...







And a close-up...





I, for one, welcome the changes being made to the aircraft. But like many others, I will miss 'ole 'Lil'... so I felt compelled to play around in Photoshop with the question of 'what if?'...





Until May...



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