Mid-air collision at Wings Over Dallas
This heartbreaking video is from the tragic midair collision at Wings Over Dallas.
The Boeing B-17, known as the Flying Fortress, is a World War II bomber designed by Boeing in response to a US Air Corps interest in a multi-engine bomber which could carry a “useful bombload at 10,000 feet for ten hours with a top speed of at least 200 mph/320 km/h.
Boeing’s prototype, described by a journalist as a “15-ton flying fortress”, flew from Seattle to Wright Field in nine hours and three minutes with an average cruising speed of 252 miles per hour. Its performance blew away the competition and the US Air Corps put in an order for 65 aircraft before the “fly off” had even finished.
However, a few days later, the B-17 prototype stalled after take-off, killing both the Wright Field Material Division Chief of the Flying Branch, who was the pilot in command, as well as the Boeing chief test pilot who was on board to advise.
Afterwards, it was found that the control surface gust lock had not been released before take-off, making it impossible to control the aircraft. The crash lost Boeing the contract and almost bankrupted the company, which had invested six million US dollars into the prototype.
The order for sixty-five aircraft was quickly cancelled. Instead, the Air Corps ordered 133 twin-engined Douglas DB-1 bombers instead. Despite the tragic crash, many in the Air Corps still believed in the superiority of the B-17 and ordered thirteen bombers from Boeing. These were delivered by Boeing along with a suggestion to incorporate a preflight checklist — now standard for all aircraft. The B-17 Flying Fortress continued to deliver, with later models including a higher service ceiling and higher maximum speeds.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, two hundred B-17s were in service, with an order in place for several hundred more.
I wrote about a B-17 in the 398th B-17 bomb group in the US Eight Air Force in 1944, when a Flying Fortress took a direct hit over Cologne. With a nose that looked like a scrap heap, no oxygen, no maps, no radio and practically no instruments, the crew believed they had no chance of making it back to safety. It’s a great example of the power of the B-17: The Amazing Story of the B-17 Flying Fortress
A total of 12,731 aircraft had been built by the end of the production in May 1945 and the B-17 had become a symbol of United States air power.
Less than fifty B-17s have survived, of which ten were still flying.
Now that number is nine.
Texas Raiders was a B-17G-95-DL, manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, California in 1945. It served in the United States Army Airforce and the United States Navy before being abandoned to an Arizona boneyard. The Aero Service Corporation purchased the B-17 and used it for aerial surveys for ten years. Made obsolete a second time, she came to the attention of the Commemorative Air Force.
The Commemorative Air Force began when a group of ex-service pilots pooled their money together to buy a P-51 Mustang in 1957. The group continued to purchase and maintain warplanes, developing a mission to save examples of every aircraft that flew during World War II. The airworthy planes in the collection make up the CAF Ghost Squadron.
They purchased Texas Raiders in 1965 and got it back into operation in 1974. In 2001, they began offering passenger flights, allowing thousands of people the experience of travelling in a B-17. At a recent airshow, a tour through the B-17 was $5 for kids, $10 for adults, $475 to ride in the back or $750 riding in the nose.
Wings Over Dallas is a World War II airshow hosted by the Commemorative Air Force at Dallas Executive Airport.
The seventh Wings Over Dallas airshow took place last weekend.
On Saturday, the 12th of November, a Bell P-63F Kingcobra collided with the B-17 during the demonstration flight.
Bell Aircraft only built two P-63F models and this was the only one which survived the war. The pilot, Craig Hutain, had over 34,000 hours of experience, had flown with the Commemorative Air Force for fourteen years and was looking forward to retiring from United Airlines in two years to fly warbirds full time.
Col. Kevin Michels, a historian and one of the crew members of Texas Raiders, described the B-17 as “like flying a Mac Truck with no power steering.”
Both aircraft were destroyed.
BREAKING: New angle of the mid-air collision obtained by @WFAA shows B-17 and other aircraft flying formations at WingsOverDallas at 1:21p today, when it was hit by a P-63 and fell to the ground over the airfield at Dallas Executive Airport (RBD). pic.twitter.com/6NAS93b3re
— Jason Whitely (@JasonWhitely) November 12, 2022
There were five airmen on board Texas Raiders and one pilot in the P-63. There were no survivors. The Commemorative Air Force has put up a page for the airmen who were lost.
This video from the NTSB shows the investigators at the scene.
There’s a lot of speculation but no real solid information on what happened, just yet. I wanted to write about the airshow but, to be honest, I found watching the videos of the crash so distressing, I couldn’t bear to try to speculate as to what happened.
That said, this AOPA Air Safety Institute video by Richard McSpadden, former Flight Leader of the USAF Thunderbirds, has been recommended to me as a respectful and insightful analysis of the crash.
Neither aircraft carried data recorders, so the investigation will need to be focused on the recovered wreckage and the demonstration plan, to discover how it happened that the aircraft ended up at the same level.
An NTSB spokesperson has said they expect a preliminary report in four to six weeks.