Thursday, September 3, 2009

The story of 'Diamond Lil'

Long time readers of this blog may recall that one of my all-time favorite assignments was flying aboard a B-24 named 'Diamond Lil.'

To keep my father from calling me on a technicality, I will have to allow that the B-24 I flew in was actually a C-87. As I recall, it left the factory in 1941 (the 25th out of 18,000 that would be built) in San Diego as a B-24, but crash landed (something about the landing gear not coming down) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Because it was headed to England as part of the lend-lease program, the government simply flew another new B-24 over to England in its place. The Diamond Lil aircraft was severely damaged on its belly (that happens when you land without wheels) so a decision was made to weld it back together and use it as a transport, which technically makes it a C-87.

After the war, the plane had a new life as an executive aircraft until it was purchased (or obtained) and restored to its appearance as a B-24 (it still does not have the bomb doors). It now is reportedly only one of two flying B-24s.

During World War II it was used, among other things, to transport movie stars on USO tours and was outfitted with relatively luxurious seats and interior. That duty probably helped it survive the war and on into today.

While searching I located this clip of Diamond Lil, the very same one I flew on so many years ago. Again, to my old editor - Roger - my thanks for the best assignment I ever had.


Cooley's Dictum said...

About four or five summers ago, the Collings Foundation Tour brought their B-17 and B-24 to Bishop. Since our old man was a flight engineer on the 24 during the war, all of we kids chipped in and bought him a passenger flight -- steep! $400 for 30 mins -- on the Liberator. He thoroughly enjoyed it and we took many pictures.

When the planes were on the ground, though, airport visitors could actually go inside these bombers and for me, this was the best part of the day. After a childhood spent building plastic models of bombers and fighters, and many, many adult years watching all of the war movies, it was quite the treat to finally be able to explore these aircraft.

If Collings ever returns to Bishop, I'm buying one of those flights for myself.

Jim of L-Town said...

It would be well worth it. The deafening noise inside the plane was one thing, but the wheels up, low pass over the airport at Flint was incredible.

I waited more than three hours for the flight (late coming from New York) and the flight was only about 30 minutes, but I'll never forget it.

One of the funniest things was when the plane lands, there's a huge rush of folks to put large buckets under the engines to catch the oil as it runs out. The airport was not really keen on having big pools of oil on the ground.

Hope you get a chance to fly in it.