Collings, FAA Reach Agreement On Possible Future Flights


The Collings Foundation is hopeful it will be able to resume passenger flights on its historic aircraft after the FAA finishes a review of its operations. The Collings B-17 Nine-Oh-Nine crashed at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, in October, killing seven and injuring another seven, including one person on the ground. It canceled the remainder of its Wings of Freedom 2019 tour. The crash occurred just as the foundation was submitting its application for the FAA exemption that allows it to carry passengers and the group announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement with the FAA on the future of its passenger flights.

“We have agreed to a temporary stand down with our LHFE flights (Living History Flight Experience) as we work with the FAA thoroughly addressing questions regarding operations,” the organization said in a statement. “We hope to have this resolved soon.” The exemption is required because the warbirds don’t meet current safety standards for flying paying passengers. The foundation charges between $425 and $3,400 for flights in its aircraft and it’s the cornerstone of its ongoing fundraising efforts. The group is launching its 2020 tour but conducting ground tours only at $5 apiece until the exemption is granted. Meanwhile, it has started work on restoration of another B-17 acquired in 2015 from the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon.

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.

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  1. Snide remark above aside, these aircraft were “safe” enough to take our young men to Berlin, many other places, and back. The FAA is tasked to ensure safe air travel, no question. This venture is not, in my humble judgement, “air commerce”. It is a history lesson given for reimbursement, exactly like any other history lesson taught in schools or colleges. This travel is completely voluntary on the part of the traveler and is rather expensive, actual dollar-wise. It seems to me that if the FAA ensures that the crews are competent, the maintenance is adequate, and the riders are willing then there is no real issue here. Statistically speaking it is more dangerous to drive to the airport than it is to ride on these aircraft. As to the “fee” or “cost”, well this isn’t a Part 135 operation and keeping the aircraft moving is expensive so I have no problem with them charging. They sure don’t seem to be in the business to make a profit.

    • These aircraft were made in a day when aircraft systems were complicated and prone to failure. The history lesson was that theses planes were dangerous then and after 70 years of stress and corrosion and home-made spare parts, that there are no guarantees of safety. These are dangerous warbirds, not painted fiberglass replicas on an amusement park ride.

      But hey, I’d ride in a B-25 in a heartbeat.

  2. Good point.
    The purpose of the FAA is to “protect the traveling public”–those that are unaware of risk. Collings calls attention to the minimal risk on the WAIVER FORM that riders sign–but it IS a risk–and a risk most people will take.

    What next? Prohibitions on skydiving? Balloons? Gliders? All of these aviation activities have an element of risk–and that risk is apparent. Experiencing Warbirds is closer akin to these activities than riding in an airliner.

    The skydiving community even goes so far as to produce a video explaining the risk. The actors are NOT glamorous–in fact, they use an attorney that explains the risk that is as UNGLAMOROUS as possible–a long beard–and he repeats “this is a risk” multiple times. The last I heard, nobody had ever successfully challenged that explanation of risk. THUMBS UP TO COLLINGS FOUNDATION!

  3. Part of a long persued campaign to get these birds out of the skies. Look to Europe in order to see with which incredible rigor these aircraft are scrutinized and subjected to at times downright silly regulations. The goal is to see them in museums, not transporting people. And yes, most sports and exciting activities (beyond scrolling and liking stuff on Facebook and buying things online) can and will be subject to being regulated out of existence.

  4. “These aircraft were made in a day when aircraft systems were complicated and prone to failure. The history lesson was that theses planes were dangerous then and after 70 years of stress and corrosion and home-made spare parts, that there are no guarantees of safety. These are dangerous warbirds, not painted fiberglass replicas on an amusement park ride.”

    70+ years later, restorations of warbirds has created an industry that rebuilds these airplanes better than new. “Home-made spare parts” are manufactured to tolerances on modern technology machines with tolerances and quality far beyond the assembly line technology when they were originally built. Weaknesses revealed through time, are corrected, airframes are much lighter without the combat armament and ammunition, avionics including engine management are on board, and maintenance procedures are refined even further than than the original schedules.

    And when new, these airplanes were very well engineered and thoroughly tested before being accepted by the various branches of services who requested them. History shows, the training program for each type was extensive and well thought out. This included both maintenance and flight training. Now called warbirds, these airplanes were flown and maintained by intelligent, well trained pilots and support crew. In other words, the systems were well thought out for their day enabling tens of thousands of crews to fly in combat conditions, many times IFR, flying safely for tens of thousands of hours. In fact, history shows this incredible reliability not only for its time, but also through the many war surplus airplanes that were and are still being used decades later.

    The Collings Foundation , EAA, and others doing these living history flights are utilizing these airplanes 200-400 hours per year. Not only are these airplanes better than new, they are being used, not sitting around in some museum or hangar or flown only 10-30 hours per year as most GA airplanes are. Regular use combined with regular maintenance makes for a very reliable machine. Nine-O-Nine had been flown regularly since the middle nineties at these levels. Most if not all of the current warbird pilots and maintenance crews have vastly more experience in type that most WWII vets. Jack Roush, with his engineering and modern manufacturing technology, makes a Rolls-Royce or Packard-Merlin run easily 1,000+ hours before overhaul. Original engines, in combat or in civilian use post war rarely ran more than 250 hours before removal. Modern “home-made” parts combined with 70+ years of accrued additional maintenance knowledge, gleaned from racing, surplus post-war use, technology advancements, overhaul improvements, even PMA parts, has proven to make warbirds very mechanically reliable.

    Something went wrong on the last Nine-O-Nine flight. None of us know what really happened. Was it mechanical, was it human, a combination of both, or something like birds strikes that brought it down? Right now, we don’t know. Likewise, many new airplanes crash too. In most cases, through thorough investigations, a cause or causes are found. There will be an answer to cause(s) of the None-O-Nine crash.

    Warbirds were designed for combat, to be robust in combat, and to be maintained in a combat environment. They were not designed for occupant protection when crash landed, nor were interior components burn tested, as required by modern regulations. The FAA and Collings Foundation knows that, the customers know that, and there is no implication that a B-17 meets the same safety regulations as a modern airliner. Those providing living history flights are not strutting around saying their warbird is as occupant friendly and engineered for occupant safety as a modern airliner. They do say they have conformed to flying and maintenance procedures developed in partnership with the FAA that makes participating in a living history flight on-board a warbird as safe as possible considering the design, original intent of usage, and age of the airplane. The consumer is well aware of those facts. The consumer is very aware of the risks.

    Should all the Beech Staggerwings, pre-war Luscombes, J-3’s, and any other classic aircraft built from say 1930 to 1955 be banned from the skies because of claimed complicated and failure prone systems descriptions? They used the same technology or less than a WWII warbird. If so, there will be a lot of flak (no pun intended) generated from Avweb contributors and other readers who regularly fly airplanes designed and built from the same era, using the same technology and in many cases are older than these “dangerous” warbirds.

    A Navion, Cessna Bird Dog, DeHavilland Beaver, Cessna 190/195, Piper L-4’s, Aeronca, Luscombe, Swift ( Temco Buckaroo), Stinson derivatives, T-34’s ( early Bonanza design, engineering, systems, and parts commonality), Beech 18’s, Howard DGA’s, and DC-3’s , for example, have been warbirds in one way or another sharing the civilian systems with the military all being designed and engineered before and during WWII. For the same reasons as many think warbirds are dangerous, are these antique and classics to be banned from allowing passengers on board or flying at all for that matter? All of these airplanes, including many still being produced today are sharing the same technology of the era. Should Lee Lauderbach and Stallion 51’s two Mustangs regularly flown aerobatic, flying in Florida in mostly hot, humid conditions, be permanently grounded because they and Lee are a menace to an unsuspecting society? He has accrued 10,000+ P-51 flying hours, primarily in those two airplanes, charging people for a for profit, in a business designed to make money, in WWII fighters of all things, and doing it for decades. How does the “dangerous” and “home-made” scenario fit into this warbird business?

    This begs the following questions. Should the C-47 Normandy re-enactment, Duxford flying museum presentations, or the Planes of Fame airshows? Does the EAA need to stop the warbird re-enactment portion of AirVenture for the sake of public safety? If warbirds are not safe enough for living history flights, are they safe enough to be flown in the proximity of spectators while flying at high speeds, low to the ground during airshows and while on static display? Should the Unlimited class at Reno be eliminated?

    At what point do we retire anything old to protect the consumer, spectators, and pilots from his/hers own decision exercised with free will without any coercion or misrepresentation of safety to avoid anyone getting hurt?

    It looks like the FAA and the Collings Foundation have come to an agreement using current living history regs that have worked excellent up till the Nine-O-Nine crash. I am excited about that. I expect a better safety record post Nine-O-Nine crash. And I hope for the preservation of these living history flights are maintained so any of us who wants a ride in a particular type, for a variety of reasons such as family connections or a better understanding of history. Preserving living history flights is preserving our freedom to own and fly antique, vintage, classic and even some modern airplanes whose engineering and designs either predates WWII or uses the same technology advancements learned in WWII or other wars since then.

    If these living history flights end, it opens the door for a large portion of GA airplanes to be removed from service using the same logic.

    • Jim H: A good way of saying that the active WWII warbirds are the product of ongoing wistful affection for the past, now improved and in service due to better educated and equipped maintenance technicians and aficionados. Upgrades from effective 70 year old technology. I like that!