Library Reference Number: 041
Recovering the Liberator
"Get yourself down to Cosford to check they are treating my baby alright" This was the message I received from W/Cdr Doug Connor, at that time living in Freeport, Bahamas. Taking Doug at his word, an opportunity arose when on leaving the ACA Southport Reunion in September 1990, I made my way down the M6 to Cosford to have a closer look at Doug Connor's 'baby' - the ex-99 Squadron B24 Liberator KN751. (see the flight-deck view in the website 'photo' section). W/Cdr Connor and I had both been members of 160 Squadron in Ceylon, although he left 160 Sqdn in 1944 to embark on Special Duties in N.E. India. After making post-war contact with Doug via the Canadian Legion, the following is a heavily abbreviated version of how Doug Connor described to me his part in "Recovering the Liberator". . ... Jack Burgess
Sitting in his London club in early 1974, Doug Connor was approached by Dr. John Tanner of the RAF Hendon Museum, who had been searching for some time to find a pilot with B24 experience. In 1968 the President of India had decided to present a Liberator to each of three countries - USA, Canada and Britain. USA and Canada had swiftly sent out technicians and pilots to collect their Liberators awaiting them in Poona, while the UK had spent the past five years deliberating on a range of perceived problems. For example, who is going to certify the plane is airworthy? How can a non-serving person fly a service aircraft? Where can one find the proper fuel at each stop en route for such an old aeroplane? How can the RAF take it back on inventory, when it was struck off 25 years ago? After a five year delay, the IAF was not too happy the aircraft should be flown to UK with the old IAF markings, therefore the fuel credit card would have to be changed in London, if the UK could determine which number or markings should be used.
With all the above perceived problems partially surmounted, Doug Connor set off for India in March 1974, and struck a deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in Bangalore to send a thirty-man field party to Poona to try to prepare the machine for a flight to UK by June 10th. This date being about the latest if the monsoon arrived on schedule.
Armed with a letter of credit to cover all financial eventualities, (as he thought) Doug was to find that the bank in Delhi had not received a current authorised signatures book. There was no choice but to return to London with the letter of credit unused.
On April 4th 1974, telex instructions and authorisations were sent to the State Bank of India, and finally by May 9th, the money had been located to enable the project to continue. Doug Connor set off once more for India on June 10th 1974.
By June 13th, the RAF Chief of Staff had been informed of events, and apart from modern radio equipment being shipped from UK without instructions, and parachutes, dinghy units, mae wests, and other essential equipment lying in a grounded aircraft in Djibouti, things seemed to be picking up!
On arrival at Poona, Doug met W/Cdr Chopra who was to accompany him to the UK, and within one hour of going through the pilot's notes on emergency procedures, they decided to take off on a test run. Although having little experience of Liberators, W/Cdr Chopra had been chief test pilot of Hindustan Aeronautics. Just as well, as it was discovered on the test flight, that the undercarriage refused to retract, and it was decided to land to enable further maintenance work to be carried out. Next morning, the same flying performance with the wheels refusing to retract. On landing again, it was the same problem - a sticky solenoid, and another one was retrieved from an even older plane lying in the scrap heap. This one worked perfectly!
With Engineer ex-Flying Officer Daruwala on board on the 1st July and after a final inspection at Bangalore, the aircraft finally took off for the five and half thousand miles flight to the UK. Little attention had been given to de-icing, oxygen, heating/cooling systems etc. as this was considered non-essential. Within an hour of reaching Bombay, the plane hit the monsoon, black clouds of rain and vertical winds. Lined up for final approach, a savage rain squall obliterated everything and ground control offered a second crack at landing safely. Bombay was in monsoon flood, and worse - nothing had been arranged regarding fuel. It took three hours of wrangling before the correct grade of fuel and oil was produced.
A slight break in the weather was sufficient to get airborne next morning and a thousand miles separated the aircraft from Bombay to the scarred peaks of Oman rising to over 10,000feet. Some time later landing at Abu Dhabi, everything was well organised leading to a smooth take-off next morning for the Red Sea City of Jeddah. Over Doha, the radio compass gave out, leaving just VOR and one VHF set to cross the 500 miles of Arabian desert.
Ground temperature at Jeddah was 113 F and Doug Connor found it was not possible to repair the radio. Saudi Airline offered one on loan. Next stop was Cairo where a problem in finding proper grade of fuel cost an extra day's wait. Everything was well organised at the next stop in Rome and when approaching the UK next day (July 7th) the Controller asked if the plane could do a 'fly past' over an air show at Greenham Common. It was 30 years since Doug Connor had landed a Dakota at Lyneham. The time now was 17.35 hrs 7/7/74 - exactly 8 hours after leaving Rome. Group Captain Dowling laid on 'Heron' aircraft in order to inspect the runway at Cosford. With aged rubber and suspect brakes, it was considered unwise to lob it in over obstacles onto a 3,600 ft runway. Because it was always scheduled for Cosford, the Liberator was flown on to the 6,000 ft runway at Colerne the following day, then subsequently transported by road to its future home at Cosford. As Doug Connor reported later with justifiable satisfaction:- "Mission Accomplished."