The NTSB said in a report released on Apr. 13, 2021 that pilot error probably caused Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine crash on Oct. 2, 2019.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a report released on Apr. 13, 2021 that pilot error probably caused Collings Foundation B-17G Nine-O-Nine crash on Oct. 2, 2019. It also cited inadequate maintenance as a contributing factor.
13 people were aboard the aircraft when it crashed at Bradley International Airport, Connecticut during a traveling vintage aircraft show on Oct. 2, 2019.
The Flying Fortress crashed into a maintenance building and burst into flames after striking the runway lights during a landing attempt after the pilot, Ernest “Mac” McCauley, reported a problem with one of the engines shortly after takeoff.
As reported by 10 News, the NTSB said the flight data indicated that the landing gear was extended too early, adding drag that slowed the plane, and it was traveling too slow on its return to the airport.
“The B-17 could likely have overflown the approach lights and landed on the runway had the pilot kept the landing gear retracted and accelerated to 120 mph until it was evident the airplane would reach the runway,” the NTSB said.
In the report, there was also a call on the Federal Aviation Administration to adopt tighter regulations on vintage aircraft flights offered to the public.
McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, California, was a veteran pilot who colleagues said had great skills flying the B-17G. He and co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, of Jacksonville, Florida, were killed in the crash, along with five of the 10 passengers. The plane’s mechanic, Mitchell Melton, of Hawkins, Texas, was the only crew member to survive.
According to the NTSB there was a power loss in two of the four engines during the flight, a problem it blamed on McCauley’s “inadequate maintenance.” McCauley also served as the maintenance director of the plane’s owner, the Collings Foundation, based in Stow, Massachusetts.
The Collings Foundation said in a statement on Apr. 13, 2021 that it is reviewing the NTSB’s findings. It did not directly address the NTSB’s findings.
“We knew Ernest “Mac” McCauley to be the most experienced B-17 pilot in the world who was passionate about the care and condition of all aircraft,” the foundation said. “Responsible flight and maintenance operations have always been a top priority of the Collings Foundation, reflected by over thirty years’ worth of a safe operating record, and always will be.”
According to NTSB documents Melton, the mechanic, from Hawkins, Texas, told investigators the No. 4 engine began losing power after takeoff and McCauley shut it off, despite Melton telling him there was no need to shut if off.
Lawyers for relatives of people killed in the crash and survivors said in a statement that the NTSB report will help the families get some closure and prevent similar tragedies. The families and survivors are suing the Collings Foundation over the deaths and injuries. The foundation has denied wrongdoing.
“Unfortunately, our clients’ lives were forever changed when the Collings Foundation’s B-17 crashed at Bradley International Airport,” the lawyers said. “At the appropriate time … we will present evidence to a Connecticut jury that the Collings Foundation’s failures as detailed in the NTSB report, caused the horrific injuries and deaths suffered by our clients.”
After the crash, the foundation suspended its flights and tour for the rest of the year. In March 2020, the FAA revoked the Collings Foundation’s permission to carry passengers aboard its wardbirds because of safety concerns stemming from the Bradley accident.
B-17G-85-DL, 44-83575, civil registration N93012, was owned and flown by The Collings Foundation, Stow, Massachusetts, and regularly appeared at airshows marked as the historic Nine-O-Nine.
The Collings Flying Fortress was built at Long Beach, CA by the Douglas Aircraft Company and accepted on Apr. 7, 1945. Although she was too late for combat, #44-83575 did serve air-sea rescue duties as part of the Air/Sea 1st Rescue Squadron and later in the Military Air Transport Service.
In April 1952, #44-83575 was instrumented and subjected to the effects of three different nuclear explosions. After a thirteen-year “cool down” period, #44-83575 was sold as part of an 800-ton scrap pile and Aircraft Specialties Company began the restoration of the aircraft.
Damaged skin was fabricated and replaced on site; engines and props were stripped, cleaned, repaired, and tested; four thousand feet of new control cable was installed; all electrical wiring and instrumentation was replaced.
For twenty years, without a major problem or incident, #44-83575 served as a fire bomber dropping water and borate on forest fires. She was sold in January 1986 to the Collings Foundation. Restored back to her original wartime configuration by Tom Reilly Vintage Aircraft, she represented one of the finest B-17 restorations and won several awards.
Photo credit: Tascam3438 via Wikipedia and News12