Buick, the Twin Wasp, and the B-24 Liberator

David Foster, Flickr Creative Commons

Not many of you may know, but Buick built over 74,000 Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp radial engines for the Army Air Corps during WWII. These engines were air cooled, 14 cylinder (two rows of 7), and ranged between the 800 hp of the -1’s to 1350hp of the -94’s. They were called the Twin Wasp because the original Pratt & Whitney Wasp series of engines were single row radial engines, meaning that had one row of cylinders radiating from around the crankshaft.

The official name was the P&W R-1830, denoting a Radial engine of 1830 cubic inches. They were mounted to the two most produced US aircraft of the entire war: the Consolidated B-24 Liberator which mounted four Twin Wasps, and the Douglas DC-3/C-47 which mounted two. The high production numbers of those two aircraft caused the R-1830 to be the most widely produced aircraft engine in history with a total production run above 173,000!

Buick began building the engines at a government owned plant in Melrose Park, just west of Chicago, IL. The engines Buick built were exclusively for use on the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber, and comprised 43% of total 1830 production! Over 18,000 B-24’s were built during the course of the war and were flown in every theater of that conflict. The B-24 had a fairly long post-war career as well being used to haul freight, aerial mapping (pre-satellites baby!), as well as flying suppression of wildfires by the naval variant (PB4Y Privateer) all the way into 2002!

Buick’s Twin Wasp engines are STILL out there in the world 70 years later, hauling freight in the US, Central America, South America, Alaska, Africa, Asia, and anywhere  that the old DC-3 is still operating. Who wold have thought that a product built and delivered for wartime would have such a long and successful peacetime career?