Update: Warbird Pilot/Owner Killed In Montana P-40 Accident


Warbird pilot/owner and Minnesota businessman Paul Ehlen was killed in the crash of a Curtiss P-40 in western Montana. News reports indicate the aircraft suffered a mechanical failure on takeoff from Ravalli County Airport, crash-landed and was seriously damaged. According to the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Department, Ehlen died “due to the impact of the crash.”

News video shows the aircraft sitting atop a berm with the rudder detached. Fire had consumed the engine compartment and part of the cockpit area. According to the reports, Ehlen was returning to his home in Minnesota from a second home in Hamilton, Montana, when the crash occurred. The FAA and NTSB are investigating.

Ehlen was remembered fondly by friends in several Facebook posts.

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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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  1. Mark, just some small points of clarification from a local resident: the county name is Ravalli and there WAS a post crash fire in the engine compartment which consumed a portion of the cockpit (videos online through various news feeds). Paul also has a beautiful P-51 (Sierra Sue II) and has had other vintage aircraft over the years. A great loss to the Bitterroot Valley aviation community.

  2. The WWII supply of parts is pretty much exhausted. We may be near a point in time where flying these museum pieces is no longer practical or generally safe.

  3. With 3d printers and cnc lathes, the parts made today can be, and in many cases are, better than the originals.

    That said, anything can break at anytime. Even new parts break or fail. This is especially true with automotive parts.

  4. I watched a program a while back about the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. One segment was an interview with the person responsible for maintaining the WWI vintage aircraft. The interviewer asked how the team deals with lack of parts. Specifically, he was asked if they used modern materials to replace original parts when they break. He said they try to stick as closely as possible to the original materials and processes. His reasoning was the original design was proven, and changing materials on a given part might transfer structural stress(es) that part was meant to bear to another that wasn’t.

  5. I was doing touch and go’s at Hamilton/Ravalli a week before this happened and was able to see this beautiful plane doing the same. It is truely a loss for the community.