Many are aware that early corporate aircraft were war surplus DC-3s or Beech 18s, among others such as Lockheed 10 Electras Lodestars and Hudsons. In the 1960s the turbine-powered Gulfstream I (G-159) signaled a new era before it too was superseded by jets.
Less well known is that one of the first 25 aircraft to come off the Consolidated Aircraft production line in 1941 as a B-24A heavy bomber was to become a first-class corporate transport. This aircraft was designated as AM927 and was built as a B-24A/LB-30 destined for France. A landing accident led to it being reconfigured to carry personnel and cargo, flying among the five B-24 assembly plants, which produced more than 18,000 B-24s during WWII. The accident ultimately allowed this rare aircraft to survive as one of only two B-24s that are flyable today.
Following the war years, AM927 was owned by the Continental Can Company from 1948 to 1958, then by Pemex, flying throughout Mexico and South America until 1968. With a plush interior, high speed, long range and equipped with weather radar, this aircraft was a capable tool for corporate travel.
In 1968 the Confederate Air Force (now Commemorative Air Force) obtained AM927 and embarked on a long-term effort to return her to the livery and equipment of a B-24A. The aircraft was repainted in 1971 in 98th Bomb Group desert colors, as Diamond Lil. Then in 1981, the iconic B-24 glass nose was installed. In 1992 Diamond Lil toured the U.S. and flew the Atlantic to appear at airshows in England.
A substantial restoration was done in 2006 and 2007 to remove the extra windows, install .50-caliber nose, side and tail gun positions and repaint her in a camouflage green livery. At this time, nose art depicting Ol’ 927 was done to reflect her WWII service.
The current nose art, returning her to the Diamond Lil moniker, was painted in 2012, as was a neutrality flag on the right side of her nose. With this new look, Diamond Lil has flown on tour for several seasons, but is now in need of new engines. Three of the four engines are timed out, and while the fourth has some time remaining, a spare is needed, so that equates to four new engines at about $75K per engine.
This rare aircraft, with a unique history from WWII bomber to corporate aircraft to a flying reminder of the perilous missions flown by B-24s, is supported by touring and donations. When significant needs arise, such as the current re-engining project, outside help becomes critical to keeping her flying. Those interested in donated can visit www.DiamondLil.org to make a tax-deductible donation.
Allen Benzing is a volunteer pilot with the Commemorative Air Force’s Dallas-based B-29/B-24 Squadron.