Collings Foundation Ends Aircraft Tours

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FLYING Magazine is reporting that four years after the deadly crash of its B-17 and the damning investigation that followed, the Collings Foundation has announced it will end its popular Wings of Freedom tours and put its aircraft on static display. Nine-O-Nine crashed while the crew tried to coax it back to Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2019, after a partial power loss shortly after takeoff. There were seven passengers and three crew onboard and only three people, two passengers and the loadmaster, survived when the plane hit vehicles and a deicing fluid tank about 500 feet short of the runway.

The NTSB report cited numerous maintenance and safety issues with the touring aircraft, which spent 10 months of the year crossing North America giving rides for hire. In addition to the B-17, the foundation offered rides in a B-25, B-24 and two-seat P-51D. The foundation says the aircraft will now stay at its Hudson, Massachusetts, museum along with dozens of other aircraft, vehicles and ground equipment commemorating U.S. involvement in wars around the world. “We are moving forward on our long-term plans to bring the aircraft from a nationwide flying exhibition to permanent display here in Massachusetts,” the foundation said in its newsletter to members. A 90,000-square-foot expansion to the museum is also planned.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Not an unexpected outcome. The time and cost to maintain these old aircraft are becoming too much to continue. We have to remember that the aircraft were not built to survive for decades, and most were high maintenance from the beginning. Most of the people who knew how to maintain them have passed on or are getting too old to do the work. I love to see these old warbirds fly as much as anyone, but there comes a time that they will have to be parked to preserve the few that remain.

    • -sigh-yeah, I spent some time at CAF/AZ wing. Recall the engineer’s preflight on the B-17 took something like 2 hours to do properly. It was a titanic effort to keep that beast on the air, big as the payoff of seeing it fly was.

      I can’t imagine the work the B-29s must entail.

      Yeah, they’re warbirds, built to kill with as little compromises as possible, they’ll never be particularly safe passenger transports. They had a good run though.

  2. I agree. Just to keep a Stearman up and running is no small task. Nor is it cheap either. My friend owns one, and I’ve seen the invoices….

    • I first flew with the WOF tour aircraft on their First tour and over the years experienced all the participating aircraft dozens of times.
      Seeing and hearing these historic aircraft was great but Experiencing them form the Air was something unforgettable. Like the difference between a wild animal stuffed in a Museum and one Live.
      Once in the 1990’s Onboard the 9-0-9 we approached SFO from the South and requested a FlyBy ( with our N number)from the Tower. They responded “What Type Aircraft Are You?” When Rob answered “WW II Boing B-17” they responded “Wait One” then “N—- We are Holding All Traffic on Runway *** and You are Cleared for a FlyBy” I took photos of the passengers looking out the windows of Planes waiting to take off Looking at US as we went by! Then from the Tower “N—-, Thank You for making Our Day!” That was in the Pre 911 Worlld.

      I will still seek flying these Old War Birds where I Can but I understand the details of what led to this decision by the Collings Foundation.

      • I don’t think that’s it at all, actually. I think the real problem is the cost, something like $500 for a 15 min flight on a B-17? Even for me, the cost isn’t worth it, and I could afford it. It’s even worse for the “new generation” that can’t afford it, so of course a cheaper “VR experience” would be their preferred activity. But I bet if you offered the ride for free, more of them would be interested. It’s the same for initial flight training.

  3. While I enjoy seeing these airplanes in the air as much as anyone, I feel that grounding them is the best way to preserve them for the long term.

  4. These iconic aircraft had their first flights a few years before I was born, 1942. Yet they are in my mind more than any other. In their silence, I hear the roar of freedom, and in their stillness, I see the reflection of my own yearning to take flight.

  5. It’s the right decision, and other organizations will likely follow suit. After a long conversation with the B-17 909 chief mechanic about 6 years ago, he told me both parts and expertise availability are essentially gone.

    At some point the antiques become too antique. A wonderful bygone era.

  6. I feel it is worth while to keep a few antiques flying and demonstratable. however the huge cost to keep them all flying is unmanageable and has been shown that demo rides are not the way to fund them.
    In the future I will be happy to help support keeping a few flying but not all. seeing them in the air is the best way to understand history and the great level of technology and personal sacrifice they are examples of.
    I am sorry to see them stop flying especially as it was fairly obvious that they did not have the resources to do a good job of dealing with an old aging aircraft.

    so lets keep a few flying and in good condition and use the rest for static display, spares etc.

    not every museum or collector needs to have an example of every important antique aircraft in order to maintain a good flying record of our history.

  7. About time. The maintenance negligence and lack of oversight that led to this avoidable accident make this the right decision. I have mixed feelings about continuing to fly these warbirds. Inevitably, it makes sense to park them.

  8. I suspect that the Collings Foundation, if they were struggling to afford a rigorous inspection/maintenance program, can now longer afford the insurance to let them leave the ground, and certainly not with customers aboard. It’s a shame that they provided the “bad apple” example that will affect all of the other historic aviation flight operators. There are so many ways that flying these historic aircraft can go wrong (Wings Over Dallas, a year ago) that if an organization needs passenger ticket revenue to stay afloat, they’ve got bigger issues.

    • I don’t believe that the Collings Foundation ever “Needed” Ticket Revenue to stay afloat.
      The entire purpose of the WOF tour was to bring Living History to Americans often in small towns and If you knew the time Donated by the Volunteers who worked to make it a reality you would eat those words.
      Yes it ended up in debatable way but for those who worked hard to bring the WOF tour to all of America it was a pleasure to have made it possible.

      • “I don’t believe that the Collings Foundation ever “Needed” Ticket Revenue to stay afloat.”

        The FAA will obviously not allow them to carry paying passengers any more. Is anyone stopping them from touring and offering ground walkthroughs? Local labor, and often fuel & lodgings were reduced price or donated. They made money off the passenger flights. No flight revenue, no tour. It’s not subtle.

  9. This is sad news but we all have to retire some time. I guess it’s time for those old war birds to get some much needed rest.

  10. Are we assuming that the “numerous maintenance and safety issues” had to do with the cost of ameliorating those issues or a lack of diligent oversight? If the latter, would rather such details see the light of day.

    The coolest aircraft ever are from the early 30s – mid-40s. Whatever the cost, let’s not let a lack of diligent safety focus ever leave.

  11. I think keeping few flying is well worth it if you can afford to do it right. in my mind a B 25 or a T6 does a good job of showing off the look and feel of that period and is well worth keeping flying but it should not be done if excellent maintenance cannot be done. examples of warbirds that are common B25 etc are much easier to keep safe as the engines etc are used on enough aircraft that a good quality business can be made out of maintaining them. thus It can be kept a safe demonstration aircraft. a rare not well supported aircraft Something like a B17 while spectacular is almost impossible to keep in good shape

  12. Very sad. I used to work right across the highway from Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View, CA, which was a regular stop for the Collings Foundation tours. Every day for a week, I’d hear the sound of the big four-engine bombers and the B-25 and P-51 as they flew overhead. I was fortunate to fly on the B-24, and it was a great experience.

    Seeing and hearing these planes in the air is entirely different from seeing them static in a museum.

    It’s very disappointing that poor maintenance and lax oversight led to the tragedy of Nine-O-Nine, which has now doomed what was a great living history experience.

  13. Nothing can replace the sound, vibration, rattles and noise of an old aircraft flying. Even smooth running recip engines vibrate. They are constantly shaking the aircraft apart. With a very sad deference to safety, I think it is better to save them on static display. Thank goodness I have videos of these aircraft flying, landing and taking off. It is still a sad REALITY that we may not hear or witness the older aircraft flying. A multiengine aircraft like the B-17 is very complicated. More so with the B-29. Now think about maintaining a B-36. Still so sad.

  14. My family lost their only son in pilot training during WWII. I carry his name. I never believed he was killed by “an air pocket.” (what my family was told) Having become an aerospace design engineer and pilot, I knew the answer was something else. We had a forensic air accident expert on our research team and he was able to get the complete Army report. After reading it, it made sense. Near collision formation scud running in IMC, and stall/spin crash. At first, I was angry and then realized that these pilots were kids and some of the airplanes, even trainers, could be unforgiving. 15,000 US Aircrew were killed during WWII. I just can’t imagine that.

    My boss had been a B-24 commander in North Africa and told me that although the B-24 was a great bomber they sometimes worked through the night keeping them airworthy. He said she was a plane that had to be flown with care especially when loaded heavily (they all were). A pilot who flew Douglas A-26 Invaders for Air-America during Vietnam told me the Tempo-II (modified A-26) the University flew for research was a “tired aircraft” and with the airfoil section it had, if you stall it and you don’t have 4,000 or more feet below you, it may end badly. Three years later it iced up over the Sierra’s stalled, tossed a prop and cratered in killing all aboard one was a friend.

    These airplanes flew over my house too as a small boy. That sound is wonderful in my memory. But the cost in human lives is not worth anything a recording can’t replace now.

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