Classic YouTube: Ditching A B-24 Liberator In The James River, With A Crew Aboard!

Classic YouTube: Ditching A B-24 Liberator In The James River, With A Crew Aboard!

More often than not, you don’t put the words “aircraft crash test” together. It’s an inevitability: if an aircraft crashes, it’s a bad day for all involved even on the best of terms. When US Airways Flight 1549 went for a swim in the Hudson River after a flock of geese got turned into pâté, that was a bad day for everybody on board the Airbus. The actions of the flight crew in the ditching process is what kept the incident positive, as there were no deaths and few major injuries. Putting an aircraft into water isn’t simple in the least…Even in the best of circumstances, the water is going to act as an instant brake to the aircraft’s forward progress and will put strain on the structure. Provided that the airframe didn’t break up bad enough to warrant an immediate sinking, anyone on board is now on a race against time to get out of the airframe and to safety before water overcomes buoyancy. Even Flight 1549 sank into the water eventually.

Now, here’s the test: NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) wants to study how to make planes safer for ditching. They have procured three Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber aircraft and the winner of the Short Stick contest is the former “Ellen Mae” seen here, with Army Air Force Major Julian Harvey at the controls and Colonel Carl Greene, an Army liaison who worked with NACA. That’s right…somewhere, two men willingly sat behind the controls of a bomber with the intention of putting it into the water. “Ellen Mae” had been modified prior to splashing down in the James River near Newport News, Virginia: the bomb bay doors had been closed up and the whole floor of the airplane, from tip to tail, had been reinforced with 1/8th inch thick steel.

The ditching was just about textbook, with a wingtip striking low putting the plane into a minor spin. The nose of the aircraft wound up breaking off and lodging itself at the front of the bomb bay doors, and there was general damage all over, but the structure did not break up, the wings did not break off, and even with a 200-yard splashdown that put the nose well underwater, the crew was able to climb out through the roof with ease, calm as Hindu cows. It takes a special kind to dump a bomber into a river, hop out through the roof, and decide that what you need to do is comb your hair before you hop onto the rescue boat!

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4 thoughts on “Classic YouTube: Ditching A B-24 Liberator In The James River, With A Crew Aboard!

  1. john

    Why crash a plane that has been reinforced with wood and steel? At least the pilots were cool…see the pocket comb come out at 4:00? “Brylcreem…a little dab will do ya…” 🙂

  2. Loren

    I wonder if “Aircraft Destructive-Test Performer” is a difficult occupation to get insurance for. Interesting how that tough heavy aircraft became so delicate when meeting something thicker than air, after seeing what happens with a reinforced fuselage in a controlled landing in smooth water imagine ditching a normal airplane in choppy seas.

  3. KCR

    All in all I ma sure it was a volunteer crew. Looking at the tangle mess inside the plane after words.They have balls to big to fit in a wheel barrow to go on that flight

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