The NTSB has issued its final report on the Boeing B-17 known as 909 that crashed at Bradley International Airport in October of 2019, killing seven and injuring another seven, including one person on the ground. The aircraft, a four-engine bomber operated by the non-profit Collings Foundation, had just departed from KBDL when the plane lost partial power on one of its right-side engines. Shortly thereafter, the second engine on the right side also lost partial power. On attempting to return to the field to land, the pilot in command, who was also the director of maintenance for the Foundation, wasn’t able to get the plane back to the runway. It hit short of the active runway, crossed that runway, a taxiway and continued to a deicing facility where it crashed and came to rest, becoming engulfed in flames almost immediately.
In issuing its statement of probable cause, the NTSB said that the crash was caused by a combination of faulty maintenance practices, the pilot’s lowering of the gear before he had the runway made and the FAA’s lax oversight of the Collings Foundation’s Safety Management System (SMS).
Here is the NTSB’s verbatim statement of probable cause:
“The pilot’s failure to properly manage the airplane’s configuration and airspeed after he shut down the No. 4 engine following its partial loss of power during the initial climb. Contributing to the accident was the pilot/maintenance director’s inadequate maintenance while the airplane was on tour, which resulted in the partial loss of power to the Nos. 3 and 4 engines; the Collings Foundation’s ineffective safety management system (SMS), which failed to identify and mitigate safety risks; and the Federal Aviation Administration’s inadequate oversight of the Collings Foundation’s SMS.”
While perhaps to be expected, the Board’s finding that the pilot failed to properly manage the airplane’s configuration during the accident sequence seemed to be, what one safety expert called, “…a serious case of Monday morning quarterbacking.” The Board’s criticism was that the pilot lowered the gear too soon, resulting in extra drag, which contributed to the plane not making it back to the runway. At the same time, the pilot was dealt a bad hand, with the partial loss of power to both of the engines on one side of the plane, coupled with the low altitude at which the power loss began, creating an extremely challenging emergency to respond to.
Moreover, the gear takes a long time, around 10 seconds, to extend, as you can see in this Facebook video, so that might have entered into the mindset.
Also included in the report were discussion of what the Board found to be faulty maintenance practices, which led to the engine issues that precipitated the crash. The full report can be found here.