Fallout continues from the October 2, 2019, crash of B-17 Nine-O-Nine, as the Collings Foundation lost its exemption allowing passengers to pay for flights in its collection of vintage military aircraft. The decision, issued yesterday by the FAA, cited multiple lapses of training, safety protocols and the foundation’s maintenance practices. The FAA’s order divulged information not released in preliminary reports, which many had not expected until the release of a final report, which can often take more than a year after an accident.
The Collings Foundation’s exemption had waived multiple regulations to allow paid flights in aircraft with limited or experimental airworthiness certificates—certification standards that otherwise would limit the aircraft’s occupants to required crewmembers only. To grant these waivers, the FAA directed the Collings Foundation to use a regimented training system for pilots and crewmembers, and to have a safety and risk management system in place.
Much focus on the Feds’ ruling in the rescission document centers on the aircraft’s crew chief, who survived the accident that killed five passengers and two crewmembers. The crew chief—whose station lacked a seatbelt—had not received initial training for his position as dictated by the regulatory exemption. The document also states he was also unaware that the foundation even had a Safety Management Systems program in place, much less how to operate by its protocols.
A major tenet of the SMS program stated, “…hazards should be identified and corrected as a matter of daily routine because identifying and eliminating or mitigating hazards is essential to preventing accidents, incidents, and injuries.” According to the FAA’s document, post-accident investigation revealed that on the number-four engine, discrepancies and lackluster maintenance affected both ignition systems. The left magneto’s P-lead—which grounds the magneto to stop its operation—had grounded against its case, rendering it inoperative. The right magneto’s cam follower was worn beyond limits and wasn’t making half the minimum point gap. Adding to the engine’s already reduced ignition capacity, all spark plug gaps on that engine were measured beyond limits. The spark plugs on engine three also exhibited signs of detonation, and were out of limits and need of cleaning. The numerous deficiencies on both of these engines caused the FAA to question the foundation’s maintenance practices.
In researching the aircraft’s maintenance logs, the feds unveiled missing information pertaining to multiple inspections that led them to believe some tasks were skipped and others weren’t performed properly. Also cited was a lack of oversight on the maintenance, since the director of maintenance was also the aircraft’s pilot in command.
The Collings Foundation, based in Stow, Massachusetts, had operated the “Wings of Freedom” Tour, which traveled around the country with the accident’s B-17 as well as a B-24, B-25, a P-40 and a P-51. At the time of writing, the foundation’s website has tour dates still on the calendar from July through September of this year, selling a “Living History Flight Experience” on the B-24 and B-25, which were selling for $475 and $425, respectively. The foundation also operates a museum in Hudson, Massachusetts, where military displays focus on all conflicts from World War I through the War on Terror.