Coming Airworthiness Directive Expected to Ground All Airworthy B-17s


Last Saturday (April 15), the Yankee Air Museum announced it was grounding its World War II-vintage Boeing B-17G  “Yankee Lady” in anticipation of an FAA Airworthiness Directive (AD), expected within a few weeks. Online sources, including a detailed article at, anticipate the AD will likely ground all currently flying B-17s due to “wing spar issues” cited by the Yankee Air Museum.

The Michigan-based museum posted on its Facebook page: “Hello, The Yankee Air Museum decided to proactively cease flight operations of the B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Yankee Lady.’ Recent inspections of other B-17s have discovered wing spar issues. As a result, we expect a mandatory Airworthiness Directive to be issued by the FAA in the next few weeks regarding the matter. Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily ceasing our B-17 flight operations and awaiting direction from the FAA regarding necessary inspections and repairs that will be required. It is expected that the B-17 will not fly during the 2023 flying season. Please note that this only affects the B-17.”

The announcement added that those who had scheduled “Air Adventure” rides on “Yankee Lady” would receive refunds and assured that its B-25, C-47, and Bell UH1 “Huey” helicopter will continue to fly with passengers. A 25-minute ride on the B-17 is priced at $525 ($425 for museum members) according to the museum’s website.

“Yankee Lady” is one of the few B-17s currently operating in the U.S. Others include the Commemorative Air Force’s “Sentimental Journey” and the Erickson Aircraft Collection’s “Olde Pub.” According to Wikipedia and other sources, there are currently nine airworthy B-17s worldwide out of 12,731 manufactured by Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed between 1936 and the end of World War II in 1945.

The Experimental Aircraft Association’s B-17 “Aluminum Overcast” has remained grounded since April 2021 over issues with its wing spars, and it is thought that the upcoming AD results at least in part from what has been uncovered in efforts to address those issues.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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    • When operators are reporting wing spar issues on an aircraft and voluntarily grounding their own aircraft, it’s a spar issue which is grounding the airplane. Your habitual lack of objectivity in favor of your biases in this comment section does a disservice to the publication and its readership.

      • +1 (on John K.’s comment)

        And to address Larry S’s self-admitted ignorance: “somebody” = “The flying public”. That, and the safety of the non-flying public underneath them, are the primary responsibilities of the FAA.

        As one who has a little left-seat time in a B-17 many years ago, it was an experience I treasure and am very grateful to have been so lucky. But when we’re talking about revenue-generating flights in a species of bird that is critically endangered, it is not just reasonable for the FAA to ensure that they are in fact airworthy, it’s their mandate.

        This proposed AD might have been generated even if there had not been well-publicized loss of life due to less-than-assiduous maintenance issues, but that too is a well-known characteristic of all bureaucracies.

        Here is a better question: What is the appropriate number of remaining examples of an historic warbird at which someone says, “Maybe we shouldn’t be trying to make money on this old girl by taking paying customers on a short joyride?”

      • In this case the FAA is overreaching because of a lack of people who know what they’re doing. It’s not a spar issue, it’s an issue with the wing terminals. The Yankee Air Museum plane is actually in real good shape. I would imagine they just want to head off a logistical problem with it getting grounded on the road.

        • And how do you come by all this precious information? If you are “imagining” why Yankee Air Museum did something, then it doesn’t sound like you’re very close to the source. Of course you are also well-versed in the experience and knowledge level of every FAA employee, especially those who may be involved in making this decision. Or maybe you’re imagining that, too. On the other hand, they could just stay out of aviation altogether, and let the old planes die by attrition. Let’s check with the survivors of the seven souls lost in The Collings Foundation crash and see what they think.

          • Bill, the 909 incident was caused by an autocratic pilot who’d worked his way into a position where he had no oversight from the foundation or the FAA. The POI had been dead for two years, he was the DOM
            and DOO all in one. You aren’t even comparing apples to oranges. At least apples and oranges are both round, and fruit. You’re comparing apples to football bats.

            Everyone is making a big deal out of an AD that has ent even been issued.

            How do I know you may ask. I’m a pilot and an A&P for an LHFE outfit that has two B-17’s.

            The FAA is full of people who can’t make it in the private sector. It’s no secret.

  1. While i think it’s even amazing to have 9 of these nearly 80 year old aircraft left and flying.

    For history’s sake, wouldn’t it be more effective to have these all preserved in a museum so that in another 100 years our grandkids can still touch something left from the worst war humanity has ever seen?

    • For what it’s worth, before ‘Yankee Lady” was grounded, there were just three B-17s still flying in the U.S., and one in the UK. A couple others down for long-term maintenance that might fly again, and a couple being restored to fly again. We’ll see what a possible AD will do.

    • There are already plenty of B-17s in museums which will never fly again. There’s no need to ground airworthy examples.

      I think it’s a good thing that the airworthy examples remain flying for history’s sake. The sight, smell, sounds of these aircraft is not replicated by one that’s lying dead and “preserved in formaldehyde” in a museum. So no, it’s not more effective to bottle them up in a museum, there’s plenty already, and a dead one in a museum is no substitute for a live one flying!

    • The way things look, 100 years from now WWII won’t have been the worst war humanity has ever seen.

  2. I support flying these iconic aircraft, but they were never designed to be flown 80 years after being built. Keeping the faith means investing in a continuing airworthiness program that respects the reality of their complexity and age.

    There are no shortcuts for maintaining structural integrity. Having another maintenance related fatal accident is the surest way to see them all grounded.

  3. Aren’t B-52’s about 70issssshhhh.
    I always thought these would be able to fly, veritably forever, given how overbuilt most of the metal of that era was, at least to the next even greater waste of humanity and resources humans can conger up.

    • During the 30s (WW2 era), they didn’t understand the ability of aluminum and so they did unstressed skin designs. That’s why DC-3s can fly forever. I’m not sure about the B-52, but they were still very conservative on their designs back then.

  4. A while back the future did not look bright for Beech 18s as well. The AD brought about a fix. The straightforward construction techniques used in the B-17 should result in an effective fix as well, assuming the cost will be acceptable to operators. Doubtful it will be cheap.

    • It’s just labor. There are plenty of mechanics around that would eagerly donate their time, tools and skills to accomplish the AD. Material cost is nothing in this case.

      • Nah, disagree. “Just labor” is playing down an enormous effort to keep old equipment flying well beyond their expected service life, for the simple reason of keeping them in the air mainly for the gratification of a few lucky pilots and crew. This is not about a simple AD where parts are replaced. And no “plenty” of workers are around who will donate their time anymore. I was part of the CAF for many years and am afraid that the covid shutdown has killed the little momentum that was left in these operations. Morale took a huge beating when most of these planes stopped flying with the downturn of airshows. The cost of flying is simply too high and insurance has become a serious issue for obvious reasons. It’s museum time.

        • I suppose all the old timers have moved on to rocking chairs and the younger generation just doesn’t care about fixing up old airplanes. That was their great grandfather’s war. Still, having a couple flying B17’s is always a good thing.

  5. I got a ride in Aluminum Overcast in 2008 at OSH, one of the highlights of my aviation life.

    I’m sure the organizations that own these (and have the money) will be able to correct the spar problem and get them back in the air.

  6. Get a grip. It’s just an AD. Not a single time did the word “permanent” appear in this article (or in the underlying article). I’d rather live a summer without our B-17s in the air than the rest of my life mourning their breaking in half in flight, never to fly or even be seen again.

  7. Having had an opportunity to fly in one of the ’17’s at OSH, I’m with Dave G. No reason not to fly after an inspection/fix. It was an experience I’ll NEVER forget, looking at my photos nearly bring tears to my eyes to this day. To sit in those seats, to look out over Lake Winnebago from the bombardier’s seat and the waste gunner’s “seat” imagining it was the English Channel…..
    Well, more people should feel that.

  8. This article would have been more illuminating and provoked less speculation if it had gone into more detail about the actual problem.

    • Some have suggested it’s actually related to the fuselage spar attach points, but that is just speculation so far. The linked article had lots of detail on that; but until the AD actually comes out, the true specifics remain unknowable.

  9. The Aero Vintage article linked in this post speculates (there’s that word!) the problem might be at the aft spar attachment point, fuselage side, middle bolt (D). I also read parts of the FAA potential AD comments analysis. It’s amazing that there are 50,000 words of text with zero pictures. Typical government. This link thankfully has some diagrams. There is also some discussion on a 2001 AD which does deal with cracks in the spar extrusion. Replacing this unavailable, specialized spar is a fearsome, game-changing prospect. Note that the spar is an extrusion, that tapers. Anyone who knows manufacturing will shudder at the prospect.

  10. I agree that the grounding is a practical approach until a solution is found. We don’t want to lose one due to this issue by not acting proactively.
    I also agree that there are plenty of B-17’s already in museums, those still airworthy should be allowed to fly. The day will come when they too end up in a museum.
    And to be practical, one more generation will not have the direct connection to WW2 warbirds like we have, so they probably won’t care if they fly or are in museums.

    • It truly is a generational thing. My father was in WWII and the aircraft the fought in the “Big One” have always peaked my interest. I grew up close to Planes of Fame in Chino, Ca and spent a lot of time there wondering through the place and watching the planes being restored on and flown. Today’s kids (mostly) couldn’t tell a B17 from a B52. Museums are where these B17s will all end up as interest in restoring these birds dwindles and that will be a sad day.

  11. It would require an almost immeasurable amount of serious cooperation, planning, give-and-take, but here is a possible path to a solution:

    Combine what is airworthy in the current flyer with the required parts from a museum bird.

    I don’t have the vaguest idea whether or not that could possibly work; if it’s anywhere near possibly workable; the discussion could start now.