5 Consolidated B-24 Liberator – 18,482
Almost exactly 50 percent more Liberators were built than B-17s (12,731), an interesting historical side note considering that the B-17 garners far more glory. Part of this may be because the Lib wasn’t without its problems. The high-aspect-ratio wing with the Davis airfoil proved more efficient in some areas but much more vulnerable to damage, and icing disturbed its airfoil far more than other aircraft. By the same token, it was available and could carry a bigger bomb load than the ’Fort (on shorter missions), so it shared the airspace with the B-17 on many occasions.
The Liberator is one of the more obvious results of America’s ability to pivot on an industrial dime and point manufacturing in a totally different direction when the goal is well defined. Just as the United States produced 49,324 Sherman tanks (one every 20 minutes, 365 days a year, 10 hours a day), a number of manufacturers, including Ford, jumped in and started building airplanes and components. When Ford got its assembly line straightened out, it was cranking out a B-24 every 63 minutes! They had their problems, but the Willow Run airplanes (8,000) flowed out to the battlefields in an endless stream. That’s impressive by any standard.
The high-aspect ratio wing of the B-24 gave it better high-altitude performance than the B-17 but also made it more vulnerable. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)