Most Experienced B-17 Pilot in Command of Plane that Crashed

October 4, 2019 / 9 Comments

The 75-year old California pilot in command of the B-17 Nine-O-Nine that crashed in Connecticut on Wednesday was the highest time pilot on that model aircraft in America with 73-hundred hours, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Ernest McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, California was also the safety officer of the Collings Foundation, which owned the airplane since 1986 and operated it as part of its Wings of Freedom Tour.

Jennifer Homendy, the NTSB board member at the scene told reporters “a lot has been accomplished” during the investigators’ first full day at the scene at Bradley International Airport outside of Hartford. “We’ve requested a lot of documents, inspection and maintenance records for the propellers, airframe and engines,” she said. “Tomorrow we document and move the wreckage.”

McCauley and Michael Foster, the co-pilot from Jacksonville, Florida had just taken off with 10 passengers aboard when they reported engine trouble and circled to return back to the airport. The airplane hit the ground 1000 feet short of the runway threshold, Homendy said, before coming to rest atop a deicing shed.

The investigation into the factors that contributed to the loss of the four-engine, WW2-era bomber is certain to include more than just what happened and why.

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has asked the board to include in its probe, an analysis of the rules that allow nonprofit organizations like Collings to take passengers up on historic aircraft.

“There seems to be a gray area under the law relating to the oversight and scrutiny of these vintage planes that are flown by nonprofit foundations,” the Senator told me.

Blumenthal is referring to the fact that operators of vintage airplanes aka limited category special airworthiness certificate holders – and there are dozens of them in the United States – can either fly under Part 91 as general aviation or under Part 135 rules which allow fare-paying passengers with stricter requirements.

“How robust in practice are the oversight and scrutiny provisions that apply to them? That’s one question that’s both legal and factual,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve asked them to make these issues part of the investigation and recommendations they eventually make and I’m going to be doing my own investigation into both the legal adequacy of current regulations and the practical effectual adequacy of them.”

Blumenthal’s comments caused a commotion among many in the aviation community. Some suggested the Senator was seeking to ground the airplane. But Blumenthal says that’s not his intention.

“Let me emphasize, I am not advocating that these planes be grounded only that they be made safe, properly inspected and upgraded when necessary.”

At the Thursday evening press conference, Homendy made it clear that investigators are already trying to quantify the scope of safety events on the B-17 and other bombers still in operation.

“The NTSB has investigated 21 accidents involving WW2 era bombers. Three were B-17Gs but that does not include this accident”, Homendy said. “Of the 21, that resulted in 23 fatalities and one injury.”

Meanwhile, the names of the people who died in the accident were released. Besides the pilots mentioned above, the others were identified as:

David Broderick and James Roberts of Massachusetts and Gary Mazzone, Robert Riddell and Robert Rubner of Connecticut.


Categories: Flying Lessons

9 responses to “Most Experienced B-17 Pilot in Command of Plane that Crashed”

  1. Matt Z says:

    Thank you Christine. This does continue to raise the issues related to aging aircraft.

  2. John says:

    Well done, Christine.

  3. Another interesting and informative article. Glad you included the comments of Greg Feith. I don’t think I have ever disagreed with anything he has said, since I have been following accident investigations for several decades now. He is the best of the best that the NTSB has, IMHO.

  4. Jamie Barnhard says:

    This leads to the main question was the Aircraft Fueled With Jet Fuel? This airport because of its ramp fees and the high cost of AvGas doesn’t sell a lot of 100LL, was someone complacent and filled the AvGas tanker with JetA that fueled the Aircraft or did they fuel the Aircraft with JetA tanker? The fuel nozzle for JetA has a wide spout to keep from fueling AvGas powered aircraft. The B-17 has larger fill ports the JetA nozzle would have fit through the tank fill.

    • Christine Negroni says:

      Thanks Jamie for raising this question. The subject of improper fuel being used did come up at the NTSB news conference on Thursday night and here is what was said.

      NTSB Board Member Jennifer Homendy. “We asked based on report about it being certified for 87 (octane) was 100 appropriate? The FAA says anything above 87 would be appropriate anything below would not be.”

      This was followed by Dan Bower, an NTSB investigator who said the fuel used for the B-17, “was a widely used fuel for internal combustion type engines. It was originally able to run on 87 octane. Higher octane is fine in these types of engines. FAA said its fine for these engines.”

  5. Leland (Lee) Taylor says:

    Speculation on Facebook about an accident such as this serves no good purpose except to spread rumors and probably false narrative. What we all need to do is spend some time honoring those who died, and mourn the loss of a wonderful piece of history that was operated for many years by Collings Foundation and took history to the masses all those years.

  6. David P Thomas says:

    Suggesting that the NTSB has investigated 21 accidents of WWII era bombers without providing any context doesn’t lend anything to understanding what happened. I believe that those 21 accidents occurred since 1983. How many other accidents did they investigate during that time? What was the age of other aircraft that were involved with accidents? Why would you even provide that number without helping the public understand what it means?

  7. Jamie Barnhard says:

    You addressed what the appropriate fuel is to use in the aircraft. What hasn’t been addressed is what fuel the aircraft was serviced with. This aircraft has large fuel tanks and a lot of plumbing. On taxi the pilot said he was going to hold short for a quick run up. Shortly after take off yaircraft loses 1 engine then loses power on the other engines. Reports from witness on the ground stated the engines were running rough popping and sputtering. This is text book misfueling. I have read 15 NTSB reports on miss fueling piston engine aircraft. Aircraft radial, opposed, carbureted or injected will not run on Jet Fuel. These engines Typically ran on 100 Leaded Green or 115/145 Purple. There are only a few places in the Country to get 115/145 purple 100LL is the standard that has replaced 100 Leaded Green.

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