The Truth About Warbird Safety-Sad Crash of Collings Foundation B-17
I lived in the Warbird movement for eleven years before my Panther Jet Fighter crashed due to a fuel control malfunction. I had a full time mechanic, spared no expense on maintenance and sent the fuel control out for overhaul three times. I thought as I recovered for seven months that no one could have spent more or did more for maintenance of this Warbird than I.
I was especially saddened to see the crash of the Collings Foundation B-17 with a terrible loss of life. I knew the founders of that group when they rebuilt the B-24 back in the eighties. They are not an irresponsible crowd but like all Warbird operators they share the same collections of risks.
No one alive, who currently maintains or flies one of these aircraft ever did so in the service. No one alive who currently flies or maintains these aircraft went through a military training program for them. The engines are old with no new parts being manufactured for decades. Even in service these aircraft needed the resources of a Government to keep them flying. The aircraft and engines were never intended to last this long so intense maintenance and inspections are vital to continued safety.
In spite of all these impediments Warbirds and their pilots have demonstrated a remarkable safety record over the years because for the most part they are dedicated to the preservation of the history of America’s military that these aircraft represent. But the crash of this B-17 carrying paying passengers points up once again the risks attendant to flying old airplanes of any kind whether ex-military or civilian, they break.
Everyone in the Warbird movement mourns the loss of life and the loss of this beautiful airplane and no doubt the FAA and NTSB will be all over the participants proposing new rules regarding maintenance and operations. That has never been and won’t be the answer now. What this crash deserves however is careful scrutiny to make certain the existing rules which have proven effective in keeping the accident record under control were complied with so no accident for the same reason happens again.
Arthur Alan Wolk
October 3, 2019