It’s never a good thing when a general aviation accident occupies the lead slot on the evening news on a Saturday night. Or when it consumes five minutes of an abbreviated newscast that aired in the market where I live. But that’s exactly what happened with dramatic coverage of collision between a B-17 and an even rarer P-63 at a Dallas airshow Saturday. There were no survivors among the five aboard the B-17 and the single pilot in the P-63. As is the way of these things, the crash received wide news coverage with video from several angles. You can view it yourself and you hardly need instant YouTube analysis to see what happened. Why it happened awaits further investigation.
The question that always occurs to me after every airshow crash—and they’re not exactly rare—is this: Are these displays still worth doing? It has a particular poignancy for shows involving rare warbirds, for even allowing for the odd scratch-built airplane from parts, the fleet of flyable historical aircraft is fragile.
My answer to this question has always been yes, but I’ll tell ya this, I say it with less full-throated enthusiasm than I once did. Ostensibly, these are supposed to be acts of patriotism whose high-minded intent is to remind viewers of the sacrifice and achievements of the World War II generation. But I’m not sure that bombers and fighters flying by for anyone not broadly familiar with the war is anything but the other reason we do airshows: for entertainment and spectacle. So is that tradeoff worth the risk in flying these relics? In my view, yes, but just.
There’s an example of just about every historically important aircraft in a museum somewhere in the U.S. or abroad. You’ll learn more about them in that context than you will watching one fly by. But to me, it’s inarguable that hearing a Merlin in full song or four Wright R-1820s adds a dimension to the experience. Five years ago, when the Collings Foundation was touring the former Nine-O-Nine B-17, I watched it being marshaled into parking here at Venice. What impressed me most was how much the brakes squealed. It was easy to imagine what a couple of dozen of them trundling out of their revetments in East Anglia on the way to Schweinfurt must have sounded like. Or what 80 B-29s departing Tinian felt like when Doc or FiFi roar by. I can’t convince myself that these should be grounded for the sake of safety. That’s too much nannyism for me.
Still, what reality giveth, it also taketh away. The aforementioned Nine-O-Nine was destroyed in a crash on Oct. 2, 2019, at Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Seven of the 13 people aboard were killed and six were injured, one on the ground. The cause was the pilot’s mishandling of the airplane after an engine shutdown, itself caused by egregious maintenance oversights that also hobbled another engine on the same wing. The NTSB’s investigation found that the Collings Foundation’s organization was not effective in identifying and mitigating safety risks.
Prior to the accident, I had flown with Collings and covered them a couple of times. In my view, they were a stand-up, professional organization. I was not qualified to make this judgment from the outside looking in because the Nine-O-Nine crash revealed significant deficiencies. I’m not suggesting that this applies at all to the Commemorative Air Force’s oversight of its demonstration flights. In fact, I have the same view of it that I had of Collings before the accident.
But this much is true. In just three years, two B-17s have been lost with the loss of 13 lives. If the warbird historical community is lumped together as one, this is not an enviable record regardless of what caused the accidents. I keep going back to that risk tradeoff and positing that this is the price to pay for historical demonstration flights. Evidently, this is true, too, because it has just been paid by the families of the crews lost in the tragedy.
Not to be discounted is the impact on spectators. A decade ago, a family friend witnessed a fatal airshow accident at Martinsburg, West Virginia. I asked her to write about the trauma she experienced in this blog submission. As she said, the horror of such things leaves an indelible imprint and a lasting impression of aviation that’s anything but positive, the diametric opposite of what airshows aspire to do.
In my time covering shows at Oshkosh and Lakeland, I’ve been to an airshow briefing or two. I’m not an expert on it, but my impression is that they’re carefully orchestrated with little left to chance. The performers and pilots take them seriously because everyone understands the stakes. There’s no reason to believe the Dallas show was any different, but avoiding accidents has always involved more dumb luck than most of us are willing to admit. Luck ran out here. Just guessing, but I bet long before the NTSB gets around to issuing even a preliminary report, CAF will know what happened and possibly why. A simple flyby gone bad for a moment’s inattention or something else?
And it will be up to them to fix it because neither the NTSB nor FAA are well versed enough in what these organizations do to give them other than the broadest guidance. And fix it they better because another major accident might turn vintage aircraft demonstrations from worth it, to not worth it.
LATE ADDITION: I was watching some coverage of this accident that included a press conference with NTSB member Michael Graham. This produced an immediate palm-to-forehead moment. Graham has wide GA safety program experience with Textron and was a Navy pilot flying F/A 18s. He has more than enough experience to cast a critical outside eye on CAF and airshow operations. If the agency can avoid a political for-appearances recommendation, something positive may came of this accident.
It’s terrible, frightning, horrific; just like the real Tora event on Dec 7th that they were re-creating.
God bless these men and the sacrifices they made to never forget.
It was horrific for everyone involved. I can’t imagine the confusion the B17 crew had those last few seconds. The P63 pilot had less than a second of aircraft in front of him. The people watching…. It was like watching the plane crash into the World Trade Center…
It was the same confusion and loss of life in the original Dec 7th attack. People we loved and planes we built were destroyed buy Japs for no reason. Thanks to these modern men for showining us the reality of Dec 7th.
Comparing an airshow accident to an act of war is beyond bizarre.
The airshow being conducted WAS a re-creation of an act of war; this one was just a more realistic than anticipated.
For history to be remembered it has to be refreshed. An airshow with real loud flying aircraft will make an impression on people in a way a sterile museum never will. For that reason I strongly support flying the great warbirds.
However it is time to ask some hard questions about how these aircraft are operated and who is flying them. The accident rate as measured by accidents per hours flown is horrendous The warbird community has to step up and fix it or the FAA will do it for them in a way they won’t like.
David G, I agree with you. “It is time to ask hard questions about how these aircraft are operated and who is flying them…”. To that, I would add ‘Who is maintaining them, and to what standard?” Given the accident history over just the past decade + 5 years the red flags are waving.
These CAF planes are kept in better condition than commercial airlines. I’ve seen both and the difference with the CAF, these are active and retired airline mechanics and techs that want to work, and pay to work.
These aircraft are not just looked over by the FAA. Many of these planes are used by our active duty military Test Pilot Schools (Air Force and Navy) they have gone over the maintenance of these planes. You just don’t see the list of commercial planes having serious issues. There was definitely no maintenance issue here.
The pilots… all were active commercial airline Captains also volunteering to fly these planes. They go through as much training for these aircraft as in the airlines.
Flight time?… I noted after meeting with the military demonstration pilots that fly the heritage fight fly by… the CAF pilot had more military flight time experience than the other active duty pilots combined.
Who are you? Your arrogance is only exceeded by your ignorance. Almost every comment you make is factual incorrect and your comparison to 9/11 is ludicrous and makes me sick.
You are correct. As both a CAF pilot, and civilian IA working with an Aircraft company I can tell you our planes are well-kept. Compared to what I see daily with the GA community and being one who works on my Warbird and files it as well, I can assure the public we take great pride in our work and follow FAA guidance. Having retired from the Corps (Airwinger) and working on planes since I was a Devil Pup I can assure the flying community we maintain a level of discipline that few can challenge. CAF keeps us well-informed and trained.
This accident was not a fault of CAF but rather a combination of the Airshow boss, maintaining a visual and a crowded sky. Short of a mechanical, or health issue on the part of the 63 driver, there will be blame to pass around but in the end, it’s our duty to maintain our planes.
The statement that “CAF planes are kept in better condition than commercial airlines” is untrue and impossible. For instance, you can throw newly manufactured engine parts at an outdated design and the result is an engine that is just as unreliable as the day it was built. As a former flying member of a major CAF wing I can attest to the nature of operating vintage airplanes and the challenges it presents and unlike what you might believe, not every maintenance action is recorded. It’s just the nature of the beast. Cylinders, mags, wiring issues and fire hazards are a few components of making operations in these airplanes much more of a calculated risk than flying any modern equipment maintained by a commercial airline. You can take all the pride in your work and follow all the FAA guidelines and these planes will still never be as safe as more modern designs, period. As for the airshow itself, I have flown in this very show years ago when the great Ralph Royce was conducting it and can tell you that not every pilot flying these airplanes is of the Yeager type. In a nutshell, these operations cannot be 100% safe, there are risks we accept to keep ’em flying.
What is the point of maintaining aircraft in flying condition, or taking note of that fact, if they are not flown? Yes, they should be flown; as Paul notes, there are examples safely squirreled away in museums that will serve as relics long after the last flyable one is no longer flyable. As you say, the questions should be about how they are flown and how to make that “safe enough.” But we all know that perfect safety in aviation isn’t going to happen, so these kinds of events will occur from time to time.
Thanks for sharing your comments. What a terrible tragedy 🙁
Just one thought: the article makes it sound like operating B-17s may carry an undue risk, when in this case it currently seems that the B-17 was really “flown over” and the same accident pattern could have happened with any modern/ less “fragile” aircraft that was flying in the B-17’s place.
It could of course also be that the B-17 crew put it into a place where it was not supposed to be at that moment – but again that would not be a warbird-specific issue.
in any case, like you, I don’t want to jump the gun on the FAA findings on this one – clear advocate of waiting for their findings before making further conclusions.
“Just one thought: the article makes it sound like operating B-17s may carry an undue risk, when in this case it currently seems that the B-17 was really “flown over” and the same accident pattern could have happened with any modern/ less “fragile” aircraft that was flying in the B-17’s place.”
This misses an important point. And it relates to the purpose of airshows. The B-17 was being flown as it was *because* it was an airshow demonstration, meaning it was there with many other aircraft in the area at disparate speeds *because* it was an airshow demo. No one would come to see 15 Bonanzas stooge around at 500 feet. It was in a riskier environment for a reason.
The point being, if you accept that these aircraft are priceless and irreplaceable, you need to develop ways of flying them that obviate as much human error as practical, then depend on the mechanical reliability of the machine to carry you through. This did not happen in the Collings accident and it appears not to have happened here. But we await the investigation. It did not happen in the B-17 crash at Oswego, IL in 2011, either.
It’s possible to develop a fatalistic attitude here and calculate that losing them occasionally is worth the tradeoff of the thrill of seeing them fly by. I’m agnostic on that, I guess. CAF owns the airplanes. It’s their call to make.
Keep them flying, but no more mixed fighter-bomber mass gaggles. Too much speed disparity, too little visibility from cockpits, too many airplanes in too little airspace, and too many people gathered below. I listened on the airboss frequency during the warbird gaggle at my hometown airshow a couple months ago and it was mass confusion, to the point that I felt uncomfortable standing beneath what was going on overhead.
I would also say keep them flying, but maybe it would be better to start using replicas to bring up the safety standards. I’ve been seeing cool looking smaller-scale experimentals being built that might still give the audiences a sense of the spectacle, but also give the pilots and crews something more modern to fly and maintain.
This idea is similar to what we see in modern NASCAR races. The cars may look like the cars we drive, but underneath they are purpose built race cars with incredible modern safety features. NASCAR rightfully realized that no matter how skilled the drivers were, it’s not worth the danger. Having been to NASCAR races, I can tell you the thrill is still there even though those Toyota Camry’s have almost nothing to do with the ones clogging the local highways.
Air shows are not only meant to thrill, but also to inspire, and it’s hard to inspire people to pursue and support flying if they just look at dusty relics in a museum.
I’m in favor with the ‘Replica’ idea. When the demonstration aircraft are built with the latest technology, materials and reliability the pilots and crew are much more practiced. Close Formation is dangerous and must always be treated as such. Practicing formation flights regularly is so very important. Original +70 year old aircraft are not reliable and/or cost effective enough for daily year round practice and training. The original aircraft that are modified with the latest and greatest technologies become more reliable but loose their ‘Nostalgia’. Our forefathers fought wars and landed on the moon with long-hand math, slide rules, charts and graphs. That is also import to preserve for all the future generations.
Miss Veedol, a replica of a Bellanca CH-400 is flown all around from big airshows to small fly-ins and gets the story across of it’s historic October 1931 Trans-Pacific flight. After 20 years even the replica has it’s own memories. The fund raising for this homebuilt category aircraft also built a large community from Misawa, Japan to the Sister City Wenatchee, Washington.
On 4 Aug 2018, Junkers Ju-52 HB-HOT crashed in the Swiss mountains with 17 passengers and 3 crew aboard. There were no survivors. Up until that point, four Ju-52s could be seen in the skies above Switzerland on a regular basis. Sometimes all of them together. They have been grounded since the accident.
The investigation revealed that the crew – very experienced ex-airline and ex-military pilots – flew dangerously slow and low over mountainous terrain on a hot day, on a flight path that severely limited their options. It also found two general areas of concern: (1) apparently, there had been a culture of “cavalier” flying practices and of not openly talking about safety concerns and risks; (2) the wreckage revealed maintenance shortcomings, although those did not contribute to the accident.
I am all for keeping historic machines flying. They don’t get better by sitting on the ground. But I do wonder if this goal gets in the way of what is required to do it safely. Arguably, keeping an old, often pieced-together machine airworthy is going to be more difficult than it is with a modern plane: incomplete documentation, few people left with real-world experience, tired structures, materials and components, remanufactured pieces, guesswork, …
And yet, while modern planes get maintained by full-time professionals, old birds get rebuilt and fixed by hobbyists. Skilled, experienced and dedicated ones, I’m sure. Yet, they work in their free time, often on limited budgets, and presumably under pressure to be ready for that next show.
A proper, dispassionate risk analysis would likely reveal that this type of activity needs a lot more safeguards. Probably more than we would like, and it would almost certainly reduce the total number of hours we see such planes in the air. But it may be what’s needed to keep flying those planes AND to keep people alive.
On the topic of risk analysis: As I understand it, the downward visibility in the P-63 is horrific. Does anyone know if details such as this make it into the risk review and the manoeuvre planning of air shows? The video makes it look like neither pilot could see the other one at those particular angles.
If you put in more safeguards the way it usually gets done, you will either kill the project slowly or even quickly.
My experience around these sorts of institutions has taught me that there’s a danger in letting people stay in their positions too long no matter their ability or competence. Part of their mission should be to constantly get in new blood while training and educating them. Similarly, leadership needs to change often, and understand their success isn’t judged on obtaining an office, but on being able to leave several candidates behind to fill it. Otherwise, people just try to hold on to their titles even after they’ve lost the energy and spirit they had when they volunteered.
I can’t say that’s what happened with Collings, but it’s a dynamic I’ve seen in other groups which often get set in their ways and become less and less dynamic.
It was pure luck that the B-17 didn’t come down into people not even attending the airshow.
The FAA has been pretty good at making sure air shows are conducted in a manner that prevents any spectator from any injury or fatality. I was part of a small air show on several occasions and the local FSDO would not let our part of the show conduct a formation (4 plane) since we had not demonstrated a formation to the FAA prior to the show. 3 of us had experience in formation flying, flying skydivers. The collision that happened at Dallas is a real tragedy with the loss of 6 good persons involved. RIP. It would be even more tragic if this accident were to result in the end of flying these historic airplanes.
Thank you for a thoughtful, cogent discussion on this tragedy. Speculators, please hold your water. I am a relatively new CAF pilot giving rides in a BT-13 and occasionally a Airshow flyby. This CAF organization is run by people with great intentions and leadership. I have not seen anything to sway my opinion otherwise. Our old airplanes are lovingly maintained and operated by dedicated professional’s who volunteer their time and gifts to the organization.
The CAF Mission says it all:
ATP, CFI, A&P
There is a HUGE difference between a “flight demonstration” (a chance to see a warbird in flight) and an “aerial demonstration” of a group of aircraft.
With a single aircraft, there is little need for coordination with others–usually only with the airshow ops, announcer, and other pilots.
The problem often arises–as in this case–with the interaction between other aircraft and crews.
A possible middle ground is to have the airshow require coordination when there are two or more aircraft demonstrating at the same time. If it is to be a formation flight, a formation qualification should be required. EAA Oshkosh is a good example.
This still allows individual flights, (including passenger flights, as mentioned above) and a chance to keep these treasures flying–and safely.
This isn’t just for the airshow industry–or for “demonstration” purposes–I’d like for everyone involved in an airshow to know who the other guys are, what the plan is, any contingency plans, and that they are qualified.
A final note: Though this discussion has been about warbirds, it ought to apply to EVERY “flight demonstration”–the problem is NOT USUALLY specific to warbirds–it is usually the pilots, and the airshow ops.
Every airshow with multiple aircraft airborne at once use an air boss, frequently a retired air traffic controller, either civilian or military, who coordinates before the show with every pilot and performer. If there is any formation flying, each pilot has to have not only a formation certification but a currency in formation flying. It is standard practice to have the formations pre-brief then go up and practice how the flight will go in a practice area away from any populated area. Every aspect of the formation flight is briefed, including join-up, leads, breakups, and how to abandon the flight safely if a problem arises. An hour briefing for a 15 minute formation flight is not uncommon.
As always, a thoughtful and reasoned essay by Paul Bertorelli, surely today’s premier aviation reporter and commentator. To fly or not to fly these historic aircraft is a vexing dilemma. Static display is valuable, but flying them truly captures their essence. Yet doing so is fraught with operational and safety issues, and as Paul points out, despite great care and professionalism (usually, but not always), the warbird accident rate is very high. I join with Paul in favoring flying, but only when and if it can be done with the highest possible level of safety for all concerned. Unfortunately, the air show environment is not always conducive to achieving that goal.
Fair and sensible comment. 👍
I also think it makes a difference to see, hear and maybe even smell these machines in action rather than in a museum but if this experience can be made safer by not flying them in formation (or at least renounce riskier types of formation flying), that’s what we need to do. Low-level join-ups or head-on passes may look cool but are not required for the purpose and mishaps like this may inspire the regulator to stop show-flying warplanes and oldtimers at all.
They weren’t flying formation and they weren’t joining up.
Replying to Gary W.: What I read was that the P-63 was trying to join up with two other aircraft in a formation loosely based on the B-17, not seen in the videos that have been published so far. As always, speculation before all the facts are known is useless.
Useless but fun.
Not fun at all, your comment🤮
Replying to Mac H: According to ADSB tracks, the P-63 was in the fighter track following 2 preceding P-51s. It did appear to start it’s turn just a bit late, possibly taking it into the bomber track. Fighters were following fighters in a circuit, not forming up with the bombers. What I was surprised to hear was that the bomber train and fighter train were at the same altitude but with the fighters flying some 50kts faster to the outside of the bomber track. At Oshkosh it seems that they keep dissimilar aircraft at different altitudes if there is the potential for their paths to cross.
That’s what gets me.Why wasn’t there any altitude separation between the fighters and bombers?
The loss of life is terrible. On October 13 of this year I was working in the yard when I heard a strange sound approaching overhead. It was a B-17 at 1,700 feet. An awesome sight and sound. I’ll have to admit imagining what it would have been like to hear this sound in Europe in the 1940s. The aircraft was the “Yankee Lady” and they were offering flights out of Rock Hill, SC airport. This weekend was the “Warbirds over Monroe” airshow. Perhaps a hundred thousand of people attended. The draw seemed to be for parents to show their children aviation and the awesome and fearsome implements of war. Despite the risks, warbirds do draw large audiences and continues participation in aviation. The local EAA Chapter signed up hundreds of kids for Young Eagles flights.
I don’t remember the year, but as a hot-shot pilot owner of a beautiful Beech H-18, the annual Confederate Air Force gathering down in Harlingen, Texas was an excuse to load up a group of friends and fly down to Texas for the show. Being an official CAF “Colonel” gave my group license to party which we did with great enthusiasm. When it was time for the airshow, we all gathered under the wings of the Beech 18 to review the unfolding reenactor spectacle. T-6s painted up like Zeros proceeded to bomb the runway while lots of pyrotechnics went off to give the simulated bombing a hint of realism while jeeps with mounted machineguns fired blanks at the attackers. Just in time, the good guys arrived in their P-51s to down the Zeros. No doubt inspired by the rowdy cheers from the audience. The show was achieving its desired “WOW” factor when something bizarre happened. One of CAF’s prized aircraft, I believe it was a Martin B-26 Marauder bomber, proceeded to make a low pass down the runway and didn’t pull up. It traveled some distance at tree top level until it hit the ground in a ball of flame. Like someone flipping a switch, the once cheering crowd went silent. The only sounds were the sirens of the emergency crews racing to the crash site. The realization that death, real death, was now a part of the show had a sobering effect on everyone witnessing the grim reality of the faux war being demonstrated for our entertainment. I’m not a pacifist by any means, but witnessing a warbird’s crash and the demise of its’ crew is a reminder that war isn’t glamorous or fun. It’s downright ugly. Should warbirds continue to fly? Absolutely! But fly as the symbols of courage and skill of those who gave their youth and lives to defeat world terrony But enough with the simulated dogfights and bombing runs. There are plenty of video games for that and no human being dies.
I attended an airshow as a kid in the DFW area in the late 60s / early 709s, and was amazed by what the stunts the CAF did back then — an F4F Wildcat doing about a knife-edge steep turn *just* above the runway, and a B-17 taxiing in with its tailwheel off the ground and coming to a stop holding the tail up with power so a lineman could put a trashcan under the tail. The announcer was saying something about bombers landing with battle damage. Cute stunt, but even as a kid, I was kind of puzzled by taking a risk like that with a very rare airplane. It has long worried me that it’s difficult for the pilots to fly warbirds enough to stay highly proficient. The costs prohibit that. We’ve seen a couple of accidents that suggest some deterioration of multi-engine engine-out skills for example. If those fundamentals aren’t optimal, probably best to stop mixing maneuvering airplanes at wildly different airspeeds and other stunts.
I saw a recent video by Kermit Weeks about Paul Allen’s war bird collection, and that they regularly fly essentially every one of them several times a year and without a critical incident due to spectacular maintenance and replacement of old inferior parts with newly created superior ones. Practically no one knows or understands that those WW II planes were cutting edge at the time and required constant maintenance (Merlins required the valves to be set between every mission) and were not expected to be used for more than a few hundred hours at best. The complexity and essentially experimental nature of those planes required enormous amounts of constant maintenance to keep them flying then, and even more now. There used to be plenty of old guys (pilots and crews) with that experience from the war years, but they are all gone now, and only God knows how much essential and valuable knowledge has been forever lost, knowledge that could prevent the apparently constant decline in the number of examples of flying history. One should also consider that there were constant and numerous non-combat equipment and personnel losses of these aircraft during wartime.
Believe it or not… yes, there is still that level of mechanic talent at the CAF. From sitting there watching them. I’ve watched a P51 engine strip down and rebuild. I’ve watched a wing be manufactured to exacting specifications out of wood from scratch using just plans for a PT-19. A Stearman from basically a pile of parts.
If you haven’t been to a CAF Air Base to see what is done, you should go. It is absolutely amazing. And that is why we need to keep these aircraft actually flying…so kids goi to see these things being done. See how it is done.
I’m a kid at 60.
My comments were not directed specifically at the CAF, and I have been to one of their facilities in Camarillo. However, there are a lot of vintage aircraft that are maintained and flown by other individuals and organizations that do not or cannot meet the CAF spec, as well as Paul Allen’s collection that is in another league as compared with CAF and others.
If we grounded planes for the sake of safety… none would be flying.
These CAF planes are maintained at crazy good level by some extremely talented mechanics and flown by extremely talented pilots.
Before you make some wild claim, go to one of the CAF Air Bases and take a look. They are open to the public and the work done on these planes is amazing. Oddly, it is the flying that is keeping that level of education going.
If we stopped flying old planes they will be like the aqueducts in Europe during the dark ages… people will look at them and wonder, I wonder what that was for or how it works.
Yea, that really happened.
Thank you Paul for another thoughtful piece. Our military aviators suffer training and other operational accidents periodically, under arguably the most disciplined of flight regimens. The CAF appears to operate at or near equal levels of care, discipline, and professionalism as our military. My view is that unless there is some finding of P-63 flight control malfunction, this will be what we all are sensing – an otherwise good pilot momentarily falling victim to the main causes of aircraft mishap; complacency and/or distraction. No doubt CAF will redouble its efforts to ensure the safest operation possible, but also, no doubt that some form of this will happen again, at some point, hopefully very infrequently. I hope that CAF and other organizations continue to fly vintage aircraft, but I’d certainly understand if they chose to stop. And, I’d still thank them for their efforts.
This is neither here nor there and not impugning anyone or organization. Mostly a question: did the sight of the B-17 wing jettisoning off cleanly from the fuselage after the collision make anyone else wonder? Should a smaller aircraft have that much impact that the aircraft just split off like that? You hear of B-17s and B-29s take tons of damage during combat and make it home in pieces. Just an observation. R.I.P to those lost and condolences to the family and friends.
Think of the P-63 as a 7500-pound projectile with a closure rate of as much as much as 50 knots. That’s a lot of energy and it appeared to focused right at the wing root. No surprise to me that it would shear off a wing.
Where ever you have human endevour you will find accidents, football games , NASCAR, airshows. The pre eminent demonstration teams have accidents, Red Arrows, Blue Angels, Thunder Birds, fatal as well. Locally we had a 24 YO fatal from a knock at football, at school the lads killed a teacher who was filling the role of wicket keeper playing cricket when he took a ball to the head. One of the main problems I see is the maintenance of proficiency by pilots, I have an opinion piece written by a pilot steeped in historic aircraft operation who commented in this regard on the pilots lack of experience in flying the last flyable He-111 (CASA 2.111 actually) when it crashed (fatal to both crew, owned/operated by the CAF). The PIC, a highly experienced jet chap, flew a dragged in low approach for the landing and lost an engine while doing so, as the flight manual said, “Maximum power will probably be required to maintain flight with one engine inoperative. Maximum power at slow air speed may cause loss of directional control”. Pilots who know the ins and outs of the aircraft from crews who operated the type in the old days and top grade maintenance. Both difficult, pilots getting the hours of experience on type cost, the B-17 “109” needs no elaboration. A pilot of the P-63, Mark Allen, in a Y’tube video mentions the lack of visibility from the cockpit due to windscreen structure. 8:30 on the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruoDK2MlAlg
Sudden, violent, unexpected, horrific and ultimately preventable extinguishment of lives and the incredible loss family and friends feel afterward…ironically, this is exactly that the CAF says it is commemorating with its flight displays. As an Air Force veteran, pilot and trained historian I’m in favor of flying demonstrations of these great machines. But I’d prefer it be done with less pyrotechnics and flamboyance, and more caution, stateliness and respectful homage to the kids who killed and died in these weapons of war.
I couldn’t agree more with this comment Thomas. I’ve been around long enough to have seen to many of these, and I’m starting to think there has to be some changes.
Way back in ’62 the RAF & Fleet Air Arm had an air display ay RAF Khormaksar in the then Aden Protectorate, now the sad land of the Yemen. The display was opened by 2 Hunters making a supersonic dive over the field and as they levelled off at 600kts were crossed by the 3rd Hunter low level opposite direction also at 600. The No2 of the high pair had a runaway tailplane and went into the married quarters with a vast explosion. Fortunately the buildings were empty as everyone was out watching the show. A good friend was killed, and my wife was shocked as she didn’t know which of us went in. Clearly it wasn’t me. Many years later I watched the Hunter T7 at the Shoreham Show in 2015 crash through a lack of knowledge and experience by the pilot who survived although a dozen spectators did not.
I read an interesting bio of George McGovern and his WW2 experience as a B-24 pilot. He explained that the whole concept of a WW2 bomber was absurd – tons of fuel and high explosives in a tin crate with often feeble engines and brakes – like sitting in a matchbox soaked in gasoline. On any given sortie there was a 3 or 4% chance of you dying in a non-combat accident (engine fail on takeoff, hydraulic failure, asymmetrical braking, overrun on landing, etc.) It and other AAF planes were an extremely dangerous places to go to work.
These poor guys are no longer with us. But they were extremely competent and qualified. They were smart enough to understand the inherent risk. I have seen CAF aircraft at their base in Az. and they ran a very tight ship. A mistake was made and gravity took it’s due.
I am often out west at world-class ski areas, and it’s amazing that people get killed all the time. Loss is sad, but they died doing something they loved, and their family and friends are not clamoring for the end of triple black diamond runs. I’m sure Paul knows skydivers who’ve had bad luck, my DZ had two deaths in a month in 2018. But I’ve never met a more safety conscious group in my life.
We all die. Most of us never get to do what we wanted. These guys we’re doing something many of us dream of. There is nothing in the world like seeing / hearing / feeling a real B-17 at your local airport, and these guys wanted to share that with us to give us a small taste of what it was like for hundreds of thousands of people involved in the air war in an important time in world history. The FAA is very thorough in keeping performance areas away from crowds, so they are risking themselves. I’m sorry they are gone but I thank them for doing what they did and it would be wrong to not allow others to do this in the future.
Best comment so far! I totally agree.
My basic question is why were different speed types at the same altitude? Built in separation with hard show lines and hard altitudes are used to prevent just this type of accident. I’m sure this will be a question in the show brief.
Too many aircraft in the same small space at the same time. These “Fighter/Bomber parades” arent’ worth the risks involved, obviously. Reduce the numbers of aircraft involved, and it can still be done safely. There’s a reason the military insists the airspace be sterilized when the BA’s or T-Birds fly a demonstration. I still want to see these old ladies fly, but no longer in groups.
I prefer to see these aircraft in museums such as the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum near Omaha. It’s enough for me to see the USS Intrepid berthed in New York Harbor rather than underway. Will there come a day when the CAF or other organization or individual restores and flies the SR-71, B-2. B-1, F-35 when those aircraft retire…? Are long-retired aircraft from the Vietnam War era being restored and flown? Why is the focus on 80-year old World War II aircraft?
Who goes out of their way to see old airplanes that don’t run parked in a museum? Very few people. Fly over their little town or city and land at the local airport, lines of people come out to see and learn.
That is what these guys dedicated their lives too. Few bother to go to the Eighth Air Force museum to see a B17… but if one lands at your local airport, people will come to see it and learn about history.
Over 100 million people have visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum since 2001 and the museum displays over 60 aircraft.
My take on this is slightly different from others.
The loss of 6 lives here is immensely tragic to me. The fact these lives were lost during an activity that was a public display designed to bring joy and wonder makes it even more sad.
But it would have been just as sad if the collision was between a Bonanza and a King Air, the type and vintage of the aircraft isn’t the issue here.
Plain and simple, a mistake was made. That’s the truth of the matter. In aviation we don’t stop flying when tragic mistakes happen – instead, we diagnose, identify the cause, fix the issue and fly again. This is the foundation of aviation, sadly built on lives lost, it’s how we learn.
The conversation about warbirds, rare aircraft and maintenance is not where the focus needs to be. We need to figure out how to make the next airshow safer – to me that’s how you honor the lives and the aircraft lost.
Several comments assert the six people killed in this tragic event were ‘died doing what they loved’. Those comments trivialize the deaths and injuries. Dunno that those people actually “loved” their final seconds.
It was miraculous that the Dallas MAC didn’t kill or maim persons on the ground. I guess some might argue that, like the dead and seriously injured spectators in the stands at Reno a decade + ago as the Galloping Ghost lived up to its name were also ‘doing what they loved’ at the moment of impact. FWIW, I really like these magnificent old aircraft desinged and built many years ago. I’ve met and visited with several airmen who did their duty and SURVIVED to win the war. However, I have to wonder about the wisdom of flying demonstration formations over densely packed residential areas that surround nearly all urban airports. I can think of nothing more likely to close an airport than mass casualty a crash or two or three that creates a wave of activism against GA airports.
Just watched the Richard McSpadden video. Yep.
I’m sorry for the families and those touched deeply by this, and hope that’s not minimized by commenting on some particulars of the blog and comments.
Agree, no one wants to die doing what they love, or get hurt at it bad enough that they could wish they were dead. Conquering or becoming skilled at a somewhat dangerous thing is part of the sense of accomplishment that goes with it though.
The should “we” shouldn’t “we” debate related to it sort of leaves out the fact that these airplanes aren’t public property. If you’re talking about the fact that they were low and fairly close to each other over a bunch of people and places just before the crash, that’s another matter.
Bombers as a concept. Yes, very difficult to protect, by fighters or self; the overly optimistic “fortress” name thing notwithstanding. The squeaky brakes… “Strategic Air Command” – some really good B-36 footage, in the air and on the ground, with brakes squeaking. Sappy movie though.
Finally, Part of the wow that goes with seeing these fly – or just parked afterwards – is that somebody gets to FLY that. It’s beyond cool, and inspiring to a young kid; encouragement to do something with your life. Even though there are probably less and less young people that WWII means anything to anymore – the sights and sounds (+ maybe imagining the pilot’s sensations) are still exciting. Been a while for me personally, but that’s how I remember it.