The vintage B-17 aircraft that crashed Oct. 2 shortly after taking off from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., killing seven people, had flagged an engine problem shortly before it went down, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The report said the World War II- era plane, operated by the Collings Foundation based in Stow, Mass., took off at 9:47 a.m.
“According to preliminary air traffic control (ATC) data provided by the FAA, shortly after takeoff, at 0950, one of the pilots reported to ATC that he wanted to return to the airport,” the report said. “At that time, the airplane was about 500 ft above ground level (agl) on the right crosswind leg of the airport traffic pattern for runway 6. The approach controller verified the request and asked if the pilot required any assistance, to which he replied no. The controller then asked for the reason for the return to the airport, and the pilot replied that the airplane had a ‘rough mag’ on the No. 4 engine,” the report said.
The controller, the report said, “then instructed the pilot to fly a right downwind leg for runway 6 and confirmed that the flight needed an immediate landing. He subsequently cancelled the approach of another airplane and advised the pilot to proceed however necessary to runway 6. The approach controller instructed the pilot to contact the tower controller, which he did.”
The crew encountered trouble during the landing.
“Witness statements and airport surveillance video confirmed that the airplane struck approach lights about 1,000 ft prior to the runway, then contacted the ground about 500 ft prior to the runway before reaching runway 6,” the report said. “It then veered right off the runway before colliding with vehicles and a de-icing fluid tank about 1,100 ft right of the center of the runway threshold.”
The wreckage, the report said, “came to rest upright and the majority of the cabin, cockpit, and right wing were consumed by postimpact fire. The landing gear was extended and measurement of the left and right wing flap jackscrews corresponded to a flaps retracted setting. The flap remained attached to the right wing and the aileron was consumed by fire.”
In the fall of 2018, the foundation launched a fund-raising campaign to raise $75,000 for a new engine for the B-17, writing in a Facebook post that after a Sept. 15 flight, “the crew started looking into issues that they experienced and after inspection, the engine was determined to be failing.”
The victims killed in the crash included two Massachusetts residents: James Roberts, 48, of Ludlow, and David Broderick, 56, of West Springfield, both passengers on the bomber.
The other deceased victims were pilot Ernest McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, Calif.; copilot Michael Foster, 71, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Gary Mazzone, 66, of Broad Brook, Conn.; Robert Riddell, 59, of East Granby, Conn.; and Robert Rudner, 65, of Tolland, Conn.
The NTSB will issue a more comprehensive report at a later date.
The preliminary report said that, following the crash, “the flap and aileron remained attached to the left wing and a section of flap was consumed by fire. The empennage, elevator, and rudder remained intact. Control continuity was confirmed from the elevator, rudder, elevator trim, and rudder trim from each respective control surface to the area in the cabin consumed by fire, and then forward to the cockpit controls.”
The report added that elevator trim “and rudder trim cables were pulled during impact and their preimpact position on their respective drum at the control surfaces could not be determined. The left wing aileron trim tab remained intact and its pushrod was connected but bent. The left aileron bellcrank separated from the wing, but the aileron cables remained attached to it and the aileron cable remained attached in cockpit.”
The plane had been subject to regular monitoring prior to the crash.
According to the report, the aircraft “was maintained under an airworthiness inspection program, which incorporated an annual inspection, and 25-hour, 50-hour, 75-hour, and 100-hour progressive inspections. Review of maintenance records revealed that the airplane’s most recent annual inspection was completed on January 16, 2019.”
At that time, the report said the “airframe had accumulated about 11,120 total hours of operation. Engine Nos. 1, 2, and 3 had 0 hours since major overhaul at that time. Engine No. 4 had 838.2 hours since major overhaul at that time. The airplane’s most recent progressive inspection, which was the 100-hour inspection, was completed on September 23, 2019. At that time, the airplane had been operated about 268 hours since the annual inspection.”