Investigators are looking for explanations into how two warbirds ended up in the same place at the same time at a Dallas air show on Saturday. So far they haven’t had any public insight into how six people died in the midair collision of a B-17 and a P-63 Kingcobra at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow put on by the Commemorative Air Force. The fighter disintegrated on contact with the four-engine bomber, which split into two main pieces and tumbled to the ground in a fireball. There were five crew on the bomber and a single pilot in the P-63.

Both aircraft are registered to the American Airpower Heritage Museum operated by the CAF in Dallas. The Kingcobra is a larger and more powerful version of the P-39 Airacobra. It was used almost exclusively by Russia. The CAF’s was built in 1946 according to published registration data. NTSB member Michael Graham told reporters there will be no speculation on the cause. International Council of Air Shows President John Cudahy said he’s puzzled by the tragedy. “It’s still to early to figure out what happened yesterday. I’ve watched the tape several times and I can’t figure it out and I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Cudahy told ABC News.

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.


  1. It looked like a P-51. It’s not like King Cobras grow on trees. That is a rare and priceless aircraft that shouldn’t be messed with in this manner. There was a tragic crash of another Bell Cobra awhile back. It’s disheartening to witness such a waste of historical hardware.

    • Does it REALLY matter what the aircrafts were??? Have some freakin’ respect for cryin’ out loud! Prayers to all of the families involved, this was truly horrific.

      • I’m a Christian, so each death is painful. My concern arises with aviation safety and, in this case, the preservation of rare aircraft. There’s not much we can do to comfort their families and friends, but we can seek to prevent future tragedies.

        • David B: As a fellow follower of Jesus Christ, I would humbly suggest there is something we can do. We can offer our heartfelt prayers for the souls that were taken away too soon and for God to provide comfort and strength to the families and friends who are now grieving their loss. Knowing that others share in their sorrow can mean a great deal to those bereaved. Of course, determining the cause of this accident is important, and the NTSB investigation and conclusion will hopefully be able to shed light on what went wrong so that future tragedies of this sort can be avoided and the safety of aviation as a whole can be improved. But the fact remains that the loss of an aircraft, no matter how rare a model, pales in comparison to the human cost.

          • Uh, okay. I didn’t know these people, nor did I suffer any loss with their passing. Of course I feel badly for the families, but as I pointed out, tens of thousands of people die every day, and if I spent my time rendering eulogies for each one, there would be little time for anything else. I grieve in my own way, both for the crews and these aircraft. Rather than dwell on postmortem protocols, we should research how to prevent future mishaps, and to preserve these aircraft for our posterity.

          • Sending prayers is a perfect method to demonstrate to others how pious and christ-like you wish to be perceived while doing absolutely nothing. How exceedingly shallow of you.

        • “There’s not much we can do to comfort their families and friends”
          At the VERY least show some respect and engage your brain before you press the “Post Comment” button.

        • I’m a christian, I’m a christian. I’ve been listening to this BS all of my life. It’s a preface for every situation where some self-acclaimed, self righteous zealot is about to prove beyond doubt that they are not in any manner what they proclaim. Give it a rest. Stop trying to convince all of us and go quietly into your own home and try convincing yourself. That’s where your religion belongs. I’m not the only one sick of hearing this.

    • “…it’s not like King Cobras grow on trees…” Really? Probably one of the most heartless comments I’ve ever heard. Please spare me your Christian pretense; humans don’t grow on trees either. As for what YOU can do to comfort their families and friends, you can step away from your keyboard for a while.

      • I’m not using a pretense, but people die everyday in terrible ways, and I’ve seen hundreds of these tragedies both in person and viewing crash videos. If you folks want to grieve, go ahead. I am grieving another fatal accident, and this mishap involved the loss of a rare plane.

  2. That was a hard video to watch. The fighter was belly up on the B17 the whole way in and the people in the bomber never had a chance.

    • Yes, looks that way, probably didn’t see the bomber until they collided.

      Some shots show two other fighters flying in-line ahead of the two accident aircraft, both were flying a path that stayed left of the bomber’s path.
      Given that displays like this are carefully planned, it is likely that one of the two was in a position where or when it should not have been (well, obviously).


    • @Robert L., not if he maintained a sightline on the bomber, which he ahould have done. Never lose sight of airplanes in, or near, the same part of the sky as you.

  3. Shaking my head. Sorry, but formation flying like this has to be planned and practiced over and over, meticulously, with a lot of discipline and precision. What a tragic outcome for all involved.

  4. Both aircraft are from my airport in Conroe, TX (KCXO). My heart has melted many a time watching the B-17 on the ramp right near me or taking off, or watching it fly over my house, and I just saw this very act with these same aircraft 2 weeks ago at the Houston airshow. I never met the pilots. What an awful tragedy.

    • We had “Nine-O-Nine” sitting on the ramp outside our flight operations building, and next to that B-17, there was a B-24 (“All American”). The Boeing pilot asked if he could perch above the bombers for a photo, and I obliged, leading him on the old “Indiana Jones” climb to the third floor, then up a ladder to the roof. He was grateful enough to offer me a free ride aboard the Boeing, but I had to work. Now that grand old bird is in the scrap yard. These planes are living history, and it’s very tragic when they’re damaged beyond repair.

      • To be fair, a lot of ‘restored’ warbirds started out as a lot less that was was left after this tragedy.
        It can be done, if the money is there. But increasingly that’s going to be in short supply.

        • I dunno. If they do locate P-63 parts, they will likely be a barn find. Many of those planes were sent to Russia during WWII, so they’ll have to sneak into those barns.

          • The pro shops make the parts they need, no barns required.
            The engines are the tricky bit, but the Allison in the P-63 isn’t unique to it.

  5. I know the B17’s are named, any idea of which one this accident involved? How many B17’s are there still flying these days?
    Prayers and best wishes for the families of all the crew from both aircraft.

    • Thankyou for the answers I was looking for. I got to see the B17 Sentimental Journey For the first time while in college at Illinois State I went and toured the aircraft at the airport then the next day when it left town it made a very impressive low pass from the west end of the Quad right down the center of campus, I was on my way to class and was right in the path it flew! That was impressive the sound of the 4 engines and the visual of the size of the plane were etched into my mind. That is one reason these war birds need to fly airshows and other public events seeing them as working living wonders of engineering and actually experincing the plane is so powerful a learning event compared to seeing a plane sitting in a museum or reading about what the plane was like in a book, the risk involved with flying them is acceptable. Life cant be lived being afraid it must be lived as briliantly as possible making the most out of the planes we have around, sure there is a place for static displays and talks by men that flew them, but it seems wrong and some how disrespectful of the guys that were killed in the accidents that have happened while making the demonstration flights, those that have given it all so the public can experince these wonders of an age gone by . The folks that crew the planes know it can go wrong and will tell you so, but they do not stop because of what might happen but continue flying because of what may happen!

  6. Awful. Dozens of people close to them going to be irreparably touched by that.

    Yeah, P-63 guy couldn’t see the bomber. How do get yourself in a place like that? We’ll know more in a couple of years when NTSB gets through with it. Maybe a lot sooner.

    There used to be a P-63 at Lackland AFB; static display (+ a lot of other rare stuff). Probably still there. I lean towards fly ’em. Something to be said for both sides though.

    • How do you not see a B-17 in a planned demonstration flight? If this was anything like other demonstration flights I’ve seen, all of the planes flying at the time were part of a rehearsed sequence. I’ve never seen such a flight where another aircraft would make a maneuver like the P-63 did to buzz another aircraft, so someone must have been out of position by a significant amount. And if it wasn’t a rehearsed sequence, there must have been a serious break-down of air safety at this event.

      In any case, this is much more than just two vintage aircraft colliding, and will come down to more than just “Failure of the P-63 pilot to maintain visual separation with the B-17”.

      • I don’t think they were flying formation at all. It’s an air show. Given the fighter was was turning, it seems they were probably supposed to be on parallel courses and either the fighter didn’t turn tight enough to stay in his space or the bomber was not on the correct path and flew through the fighter’s assigned space.

        I’ve not flown in an air show, so I’m not sure how they separate, but I wonder if they were not supposed to be a hundred feet apart in altitude or if that’s considered less safe.

        • That’s what I mean. I don’t think they were both supposed to be where they were, so someone was out of place, or the airboss cleared one of them into the airspace that wasn’t supposed to be. Something isn’t adding up here.

        • Eric, I think you have this right. The P-63 appeared to be following two other fighters (P-51’s?) but flew a much wider turn than the other two which caused him to converge on the B-17. Unfortunately, he was somewhat belly up to the B-17 meaning he likely couldn’t see it. In some ways, I think the mechanics of this accident are probably similar to the landing pattern midair that occurred and North Las Vegas in July.

      • Agreed. These aircraft are so rare, flying airworthy examples should consist of benign maneuvers, and if they’re in formation, loosen those up to prevent exchanging paint. The P-63 pilot was hot-dogging the plane around in proximity to the bomber, when he should have given the Boeing a wide berth. The earlier fatal crash of a P-63 occurred during a vertical reverse maneuver. It seems that particular stunt should be crossed off the list.

  7. What a dramatic and terrible accident. Texas Raiders was a staple down here in Houston forever, and I got to see the P63 a few times at West Houston airport. Great planes and great men and “they” will be missed.

      • Yea. It spent some time at Hooks and Conroe too. I have a lot of picures of my plane next to it; a lot of memories taking off behind it. It’s beyond a shame to lose 5 men and that plane that has been such a piece of history here in Houston.

  8. From this video, I cannot determine whether the P63 was flying “right side up” or inverted when it struck the B-17. I’d appreciate any one’s comment that can clarify this. Thank You.

  9. Another video from below the line of flight shows some of the other fighters more to the left. Then comes the P-63 like out of that line but seeming to turn back that way. Limited big picture info. so far.

    Yes, the bank angle wasn’t such that he appeared to know anything of the impending collision (unless some kind of incapacitation).

  10. This was during the air show, so no passengers permitted. Further… the air space is closed during an air show, because pilots may not be able to see and avoid.
    Because it was an air show, no planes were permitted up unless directed by the Air Show Air Boss. Also every move of the aircraft was controlled by the Air Show Air Boss.
    These planes were not just out doing their own thing. They had to be directed from the ground. Someone called that P63 into that position and the pilots have to comply with the instruction unless they see a conflict. A call for a break off.
    Neither pilot saw each other and the controller could not comprehend the poor visibility of the P63 especially in that left banked turn. The KingCobra complied with the instruction and wow… what an awful tragedy.
    Neither crew knew what happened. These crew members were really great pilots and very nice people. I knew all of them.
    I must say, when I saw it, it had the same effect as watching the second 9/11 plane crashing into the towers… it was that shocking.
    RIP… very sad.

  11. If you watch carefully he steepens up his bank as if maybe he is going to turn inside the B-17. It may be that he didn’t see it or he did and took the wrong corrective action. He was really moving when he hit so there was no time to react. Tragedy, all those lives lost, all those families affected, all the spectators that had to witness it.

  12. Reference David B’s comment: I believe David morns the loss of life first and foremost, as he should. But as airman, we can also mourn the loss of irreplaceable historic aircraft.
    It does look like the Kingcobra was belly up into the B-17. That pilot was probably as blind as the B-17 crew. That’s as much opinion as I’ll venture. I’ll leave it to the experts to piece together the accident chain.

    • I do indeed mourn the loss of lives, but I will not dwell on that particular aspect of accidents because there’s nothing you can do for the victims or their families. I won’t be sanctimonious about people dying. If I know who they are, or know them personally or professionally, then I can grieve from the standpoint of that association. General Yeager, who was a good friend of my father, was a great loss to me and the aviation community. A woman who instructed me during a professional pilot course was killed in an aircraft crash, and I felt very bad for her and her family. Old Bill Barnes, son of Florence “Pancho” Barnes, was killed in the crash of a P-51, along with our scoutmaster. That was a terrible blow to our family, since we rented planes from his FBO, and he trained my father for a multi-engine rating.

  13. I suspect this was a mass flyby of the flightline. Chino (Planes of Fame) has done this in the past, and maybe they practice it, but it is asking for trouble. I would rather see a two-plane formation, than a whole bunch of them swing by the crowd line. This is a terrible tragedy, entirely preventable. It’ll be awhile before the Warbird community does another, for obviously good reasons.

  14. The obvious flaw is a flyby pattern that puts faster aircraft inside of slower aircraft which puts them belly up at the same altitude. A descending, turning approach to the wings level show box exacerbates the problem. The fighters are descending into airspace that hasn’t been cleared visually.

    One would think that CAF and FAA mandate both lateral and vertical separation. There should have been defined ground references for the lateral sep, with a no transgression zone between the bombers and fighters. If not, then this is incompetence and recklessness.

    • Jack, in the briefing for this airshow there are clear ground references and lines to fly for the different groups of airplanes, i.e. the bombers fly the centerline of the runway and the fighters 500ft to the left of the centerline, and that line will be marked somehow. I flew this airshow back in the Midland days and rather than one big airshow, it is more like 4 in one. The trainers, fighters, bombers and cargos each fly their own briefed patterns. There will always be airplanes out of position or patterns that need adjusting and this is the job of the air boss, who is constantly talking and directing during this performance.

  15. From the evidence now available it appears that the cause of this tragedy was a combination of poor airmanship on the part of the P-63 pilot, which clearly was out of position, and poor air show management by the CAF or whoever was in charge of the flyby, with perhaps some FAA responsibility for overall supervision of the event. Mitigating facts seem unlikely to surface.

  16. No one has mentioned that there might have been a medical problem with the P 63 pilot, an older guy that could have become incapacitated. That makes more sense than such a severe pilot error scenario.

    • I’ve heard mention but the P63 looked in control, with his belly to the B17. I’ve been in a P63 and it is hard to squeeze into. I didn’t fly it, but there is poor viability already without a turn. If you watch closely he is increasing his bank to make the turn. I doubt he was incapacitated. It was that tight of a turn and he was apparently complying with direction from the ground.

  17. EAA Airventure air show planners routinely and safely carryout daily airshows with dozens and sometimes scores of dissimilar aircraft converging over Wittman Field at the same time. One of the keys to safety of such flyovers has been altitude separation for each of the dissimilar types of aircraft. Similarly, when different types of aircraft make continuous orbits of the airfield, they appear to be assigned different altitudes based on their speeds.

  18. With the apparent large difference in speed, it seems like the B-17 should’ve been easily visible to the P-63 until very shortly before the collision, given that the P-63 was in a hard turn. Makes me wonder if the P-63 pilot was perhaps looking ahead and toward the inside of the turn, looking for the aircraft he was following or something, and just didn’t see the B-17 or misjudged the separation and thought he would turn inside of it.

  19. Seems like a situational awareness issue to lose track of a bomber you KNOW is there (…somewhere), but then I don’t know how much they’re relying on their own eyes vs whatever direction is being given.
    Also, He may have been more concerned about the fighters he was flying with/around, since they may have constituted a more likely collision threat. Just more speculation.

  20. The diff. in speed wouldn’t have been apparent if they were on a collision course, unless I’m much mistaken. Long time since I’ve flown. I believe there would have been no relative motion…

  21. A Very tragic event… The Ultimate cause is that 1 of the 2 were at the wrong Altitude! 1 of several things happened in my opinion!
    1.) Someone not paying attention
    2.) Altimeter with Misconfigured Barometer settings
    3.) Error in Altitude indication in the cockpits of one of the planes.
    It will be interesting what the NTSB comes up with on this one… It is such a shame to lose these 2 crews that were so experienced and the plane that was such a part of great history.

    • None of that applies. The only thing that applies here is loss of pilot SA, period. This will be the NTSB conclusion (and nothing about “altimeters” or “altitudes”); count on it.