NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: B-17 in tragic crash had been part of area shows

Seven people died after a World War II-era B-17 bomber that visited DeKalb Airport in August crashed into a de-icing facility Wednesday morning while trying to land at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn.

News-Sentinel.com offers our sympathies to the families of those killed and injured in the accident, including three crew members and 10 passengers on the vintage aircraft owned by the Collings Foundation of Stowe, Vermont. Six people on the plane survived, said James Rovella, commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

There were 13 people on board when the Boeing B-17 crashed at the end of a runway, authorities said. One person on the ground was injured, Rovella said.

A few minutes after takeoff, according to news reports, the pilots reported a problem to the air traffic controller and said they needed to return to the airport and land immediately. The plane reportedly lost control upon touching down and crashed just before 10 a.m.

The B-17 Flying Fortress “Nine O Nine” is the same plane that was among others making a stop at DeKalb Airport three miles south of Auburn on County Road 60 from Aug. 5-7 as part of the Wings of Freedom Tour. It also appeared in Fort Wayne during previous tours. The Collings Foundation’s B-17 was used in the final scene of the 1965 movie “Thunderball.”

Wednesday’s crash leaves only nine B-17s that are actively flying, Rob Bardua, spokesman for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, near Dayton, Ohio, said in an Associated Press report.

The WW II bomber, along with a B-24 Liberator “Witchcraft,” B-25 Mitchell “Tondelayo” and a P-51 Mustang “Toulouse Nuts” fighter, flew from site to site across the country on the Wings of Freedom Tour. Patrons could board the B-17 and other bombers to explore the tight quarters on the aircrafts. And the more adventurous could pay for short flights, as they did at DeKalb Airport, during which they could get up and walk around the loud and windy interior.

The four-engine Flying Fortresses were used in daylight bombing raids against Germany during the war. They were 74 feet long with a wingspan of nearly 104 feet. The Collings Foundation’s “Nine O Nine” was built in 1945, too late for WW II combat. It served in a rescue squadron and a military air transport service and later as a fire bomber, dropping water and borate on forest fires, before it was subjected in 1952 to the effects of three different nuclear explosions.

After a 13-year cool-down, it was sold for scrap but later restored and bought by the foundation in 1986.

The same plane also crashed in 1987 at an air show near Pittsburgh after being hit by a severe crosswind as it touched down, the Collings Foundation said. It was repaired and had made more than 1,200 tour stops since then.

The Collings Foundation says it is dedicated to the preservation and public display of aviation- and automobile-related history. Its mission is to organize and support “living history” events. It established the Wings of Freedom Tour as the primary focus of that mission.

The foundation said in a statement to CNN that it will be “forever grateful to the heroic efforts of the first responders at Bradley. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were on that flight.”

As are ours and, we’re sure, those of all the area aviation enthusiasts who enjoyed the “Nine O Nine” and got to know the pilots and mechanics who proudly brought it to Allen County through the years.