Vintage World War II-era B-17 Flying Fortress crashes in Connecticut
Updated: Oct 8, 2019
Editor's note: Thom Patterson is a former CNN senior producer who's been writing and reporting about aviation for more than a decade. Follow him on thompatterson.com and on both Instagram and Twitter @thompatterson.
A rare B-17G World War II-era bomber crashed today while attempting to land at a Connecticut airport.
Authorities haven't released official information on the status of those on board, but CNN reported "multiple deaths" among the plane's 10 passengers and three crew members.
The aircraft -- nicknamed Nine-O-Nine -- is owned and operated by the Collings Foundation and tours the United States, selling rides to aviation enthusiasts. Photos posted on Twitter showed billowing black smoke at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
The crash occurred around 10 a.m., shortly after Nine-O-Nine took off from Bradley. On FAA air traffic control audio provided by LiveATC.net, a Nine-O-Nine pilot can be heard saying the plane "would like to return to the field."
"What is the reason for coming back?" ATC responds on the recording.
"You got No. 4 engine. We'd like to return, and blow it out," the aircraft answers, according to LiveATC.net. [Listen to ATC audio here.]
It’s another reminder of how challenging it is to maintain and fly these aging World War II aircraft — 74 years after the war ended in 1945.
The Collings Foundation — a non-profit educational foundation that supports restoration of important vintage war planes — released a statement immediately following news of the crash on Wednesday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were on that flight and we will be forever grateful to the heroic efforts of the first responders at Bradley. The Collings Foundation flight team is fully cooperating with officials to determine the cause of the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress and will comment further when details become known.”
I toured Nine-O-Nine twice -- in 2013 and 2016 -- when the Collings Foundation flew it and several other historic warbirds to the downtown airport in Greenville, South Carolina. It was thrilling to get a first-hand look at the unique flight deck, the bomb bay doors and the tiny space inside the ball turret -- where a brave gunner would spend hours in a seat hanging from the plane's underbelly, praying that he would live to see another day.
It was in planes like these that World War Two combat crews endured extreme cold, long missions and constant danger.
The first-ever flight of a B-17 Flying Fortress took place at Seattle’s Boeing Field 84 years ago, in 1935. Back then the four-engine bomber was simply called Model 299. Its design included a huge tail, which gave the B-17 increased stability and control during high-altitude bombing runs.
The plane that crashed today — serial number #44-83575 — never saw actual combat. But it did take part in military exercises during the 1950s to determine how bombers might survive nuclear blasts, according to The Aviation Geek Club blog. Later, the plane was used as a water bomber to fight wildfires. In 1986 it was sold to the Collings Foundation for restoration, the blog reported.
In so many ways, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was a true hero of the Allied bombing fleet. It gained an almost mythical reputation for being able to take a pounding … and somehow keep flying and return home.
Sadly, Nine-O-Nine didn’t return home today.
We don’t know many details about what happened yet. Already it's clear from the powerful reaction online that the aviation community is suffering.
My sincerest condolences to the Collings Foundation and the crew and loved ones involved in this terrible tragedy.