“Following the 2019 B-17 Flying Fortress accident…” The message begins in the Collings Foundation American Heritage Museum newsletter: “We are moving forward with our long-term plans to transition the aircraft from a national air show to a permanent display” here in Massachusetts.”
For decades, the Wings of Freedom tour brought World War II aircraft to thousands of aviation fans at airports across the country, offering rides aboard the Boeing B-17G, B-25, B-24 and P-51D at great prices.
The end of the decade-long tour came as no surprise to many, who feared it would happen after seeing the high-profile fatal accidents of recent years. However, Rob Collings, the foundation’s president, noted that the Wings of Freedom Tour was originally intended to reach as many World War II veterans as possible, and that it did – but as Collings noted, there are very few left few World War II veterans, and the organization’s focus has shifted to “acquiring and restoring the most historic aircraft types and artifacts with the best provenance” to provide a new generation with the opportunity to connect with history.
According to Collings, the American Heritage Museum is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Hudson, Massachusetts, and features “a collection of military vehicles from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and others Nations with 50 aircraft and over 90 vehicles, as well as large artifacts such as the rebuilt Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war cell and part of the Berlin Wall. To enable more school groups, better education and a more sustainable preservation of the veterans’ legacy, a much more comprehensive, audio-visual museum was needed required that the American Heritage Museum created. “We have adjusted our approach,” he continued, “but we remain committed to using many of the vehicles and aircraft to serve the public at our events and as part of our outreach program.”
The museum expansion will add more than 90,000 square meters of highly engaging museum space to display the most famous aircraft of World War I and World War II. The ground vehicles, such as the tanks, will continue to be used as part of the Living History weekends in the summer.
Many in the warbird community predicted this outcome following the loss of the B-17 Nine-O-Nine Five people died and six were injured at Bradley International Airport (KBDL) in Connecticut. The accident occurred during the Wings of Freedom Tour. The tour traveled through the USA for ten months a year. Many FBOs sponsored and hosted the tour as it was great for business to have these iconic aircraft parked on the ramp.
During the tour, people paid hundreds of dollars for a 20-minute plane ride. A seat on the B-17 or B-24 cost $425. A seat in the front compartment of the B-25 cost $400 and one in the rear compartment cost $325. The back seat in the P-51D cost $2,200 for 30 minutes. Because the organization is a 501(c)(3), the money was considered a donation. During a stop, the B-17 routinely flew two trips per hour with ten passengers on board. Additionally, T-shirt sales at bus stops added up to millions of dollars per year. This all ended on October 2, 2019.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the accident flight was the first of the day. The aircraft with two pilots, a loadmaster and seven passengers took off from runway 06. The Collings Foundation operated as a Living History Flight Experience (LHFE) under FAA Exemption 6540P.
Under normal procedures, all occupants of the aircraft were required to be seated and strapped in during takeoffs and landings. Normally two passengers sat on the flight deck behind the pilot and co-pilot, while the remaining passengers and the loadmaster sat on the floor in the radio compartment. Each seat had a military-style seat belt with a lift and lock attachment. Normal procedures required the loadmaster to inform passengers about seat belt use, exits and safety equipment. The loadmaster was also tasked with communicating to passengers when it was safe to leave those seats and move around the aircraft and when they needed to return to their seats.
According to the NTSB report, the loadmaster, who was the only crew member to survive the accident, stood unsecured between the pilots during takeoff. He left the cockpit shortly after takeoff to tell passengers they could get up from their seats, but when he returned to the cockpit he found the plane was not climbing.
The aircraft was approximately 600 feet above the ground on the right crosswind leg when one of the pilots contacted air traffic control and advised that the aircraft needed to return for landing due to a troubled magneto. The air traffic controller asked the pilot if he needed assistance, to which the pilot replied “no.”
The loadmaster told the NTSB that the pilot instructed the co-pilot to lower the landing gear, which he did. The loadmaster then left the cockpit to instruct the passengers to return to their seats and buckle up. According to local news reports, one of the passengers texted his wife that the plane was returning “due to turbulence.”
When the loadmaster returned to the cockpit, the pilot stated that “the No. 4 engine was losing power,” and then, without discussion or coordination from the crew, shut down the engine and feathered the propeller.
A video of the bomber taken from the ground shows it struggling to maintain altitude. When the aircraft was in midfield downwind, it was at an altitude of about 400 feet above sea level, although it still had about 2.7 miles to go before it reached the runway 6 threshold. The aircraft hit the ground 500 feet short of the runway with the right wing down. The aircraft turned right as it continued its landing roll, collided with ground vehicles and skidded over a de-icing fluid tank 940 feet to the right of the runway. An explosion and fire after the accident destroyed the aircraft.
The causes of death for the pilot and co-pilot were smoke inhalation, thermal injury and blunt trauma.
The cause of death of the three passengers was blunt impact injury and/or thermal injury and smoke inhalation. Two passengers and the loadmaster escaped out the cockpit window. The rest of the survivors exited through the tail of the plane. A person on the ground was also injured.
During the investigation, the NTSB found numerous unresolved maintenance issues and crew training failures. It was determined that the pilot in command of the accident flight was also the head of maintenance. The uncontrolled loss of engine power was attributed to late maintenance. In addition, there was a lack of FAA oversight of the foundation’s safety management system, which included flight operations in addition to aircraft maintenance, such as instructing passengers on the proper use of seat belts, exits, and emergency equipment. It was also found that the pilots did not use shoulder belts and that the loadmaster stood freely between the pilots during takeoff and landing, even though there was a seat with a safety belt for him to the left of the ball turret.
The NTSB found: “The pilots’ failure to use their shoulder belts and the loadmaster’s failure to be restrained during takeoff and landing were inconsistent with federal regulations governing the use of seat belts and shoulder belts.”
In March 2020, the FAA ruled that the Collings Foundation could no longer accept money from people who wanted to fly aboard the organization’s World War II aircraft. The agency also denied the foundation’s request to renew the LHFE exemption.
The probable cause of the accident released by the NTSB on May 17, 2021 stated that the pilot failed to properly control the configuration and airspeed of the aircraft after shutting down the No. 4 engine after it lost partial power during the initial climb had lost. Contributing to the accident was inadequate maintenance of the aircraft by the pilot/maintenance manager during the trip, resulting in partial loss of power to the #3 and #4 engines. the Collings Foundation’s ineffective security management system (SMS) that failed to identify and mitigate security risks; and the FAA’s inadequate oversight of the Collings Foundation’s SMS.
Last month, the Collings Foundation settled legal claims against eight of the passengers on board Nine-O-Nine when it crashed. Two other people involved reached an agreement with the foundation in 2021. Terms of the settlements were not disclosed.
Landing of the remaining B-17s
The call to ground the remaining B-17s sounded again last November when the Commemorative Air Force B-17 Texas Raiders was destroyed in a mid-air collision with a Bell P-63 Kingcobra on November 12, 2022 during the Wings Over Dallas Airshow. Six men were killed when the P-63 sliced through the B-17, to the horror of the thousands of people at the show and the millions more who saw the online photos and videos of the collision. The NTSB and FAA are still investigating this accident.
Before that in 2011 the B-17 Liberty Belle was destroyed by fire after an unscheduled landing outside the airport. The fire broke out in flight. Thanks to the crew’s skills, no one was killed when the pilots landed the plane in an agricultural field in Aurora, Illinois. Unfortunately, the rain-soaked ground was too soft for firefighters to reach the plane, leaving crews to watch helplessly from the street as it burned.
According to Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) spokesman Dick Knapinski, it is their B-17 Aluminum covered is still in the shop undergoing spar repairs triggered by an airworthiness directive from last spring.
However, the EAA still plans to have its B-25 and Ford TriMotor flying in 2024.
Source : www.flyingmag.com