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On October 2, 2019, on a Wings of Freedom tour stop at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine O Nine developed a problem shortly after takeoff during a flight experience. Three crew members and ten paying passengers were aboard. Upon their immediate return to the airport and landing, the aircraft crashed. The Nine O Nine struck approach lights during the landing attempt, then struck vehicles and a deicing fluid storage tank, ending with an explosion and huge fire.
Pilot Ernest “Mac” McCauley, co-pilot Michael Foster, and five passengers were killed. One crew member and five passengers with varying degrees of injuries survived and one person on the ground was injured. The NTSB investigation into the accident is ongoing.
Prior to the accident, the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour was having a record year of attendance, the most in thirty years. And the foundation’s new American Heritage Museum at their Massachusetts campus held its grand opening in May.
The accident represents a tragic loss of life and the loss of a piece of history, the B-17 Nine O Nine. But the Collings Foundation will continue their mission to preserve history with their aircraft restoration projects and tours.
The restoration of the Collings Foundation’s other B-17, which they acquired from the Evergreen Air and Space Museum of McMinnville, Oregon, is ongoing and is expected to be completed in the next two years.
The Collings Foundation has announced their return to touring starting January 17, 2020 in Deland, Florida. Their web site lists several Florida tour stops in January and February, with other locations listed starting in July. Their latest newsletter notes that they plan to visit over 100 cities across the US in the 2020 Wings of Freedom tour.
You can check the Collings Foundation’s touring schedule for additional stops later in the year here.
The Collings Foundation show tours include a Consolidated B-24J Liberator, Witchcraft, a B-25, and a TF-51D (P51) Mustang. The B-24 flight experience is 30 minutes and the B-25 flight experience is 25 minutes. The P-51 Mustang can be reserved for either a half or full hour of flight instruction. If you are considering a flight experience, check here for more information and pricing.
You can also check the B-17 tour schedules of other tour operators here.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2020
The first weekend in November, the Collings Foundation brought their WWII aircraft to Leesburg, Florida. My 384th Bomb Group pilot friend, John DeFrancesco, and I drove down from Ocala on Saturday to see the planes, especially the B-17G.
It was a beautiful Florida Fall day to be at the Leesburg airport checking out the planes. The Collings Foundation’s B-17G was the same model my dad and John flew in WWII.
The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Nine-O-Nine and Consolidated B-24J Liberator Witchcraft were both open for walk-through tours and the North American TP-51C Mustang Toulouse Nuts was also on display. Rides were available, for a price, on all three. John and I first checked out the Nine-O-Nine, getting a good look at the Flying Fortress up close.
We went from the nose, to the ball turret…
…and from the ball turret to the tail.
Then I just had to have a look inside. I have probably walked through the Nine-O-Nine close to fifty times, but I never get tired of exploring this plane that was such an important part of my dad’s history. After entering through the nose hatch, I got a good look inside the nose with the Bombardier’s seat and bombsight and the Navigator’s desk.
Next, I crossed back past the nose hatch toward the cockpit…
…and took a look at the Pilot’s and Co-pilot’s seats and instruments. The Pilot, like John, would have been seated on the left with the Co-pilot on the right.
Heading toward the back of the plane, I stopped to look up through the Engineer/Top Turret Gunner’s position…
…and then crossed the catwalk through the bomb bay.
On the other side of the bomb bay, I entered the radio room.
Entering the room, the Radio Operator’s desk is on the left side of the plane, but the entire radio room is filled with his equipment.
Continuing on toward the tail, the ball turret lies just past the radio room where the Ball Turret Gunner would have been squeezed inside for the entire mission except for taking off and landing…
…and just past the ball turret lies the waist area with waist windows and mounted machine guns on each side. I always picture my dad standing at his position as the Right Waist Gunner. Early in the war, a Left Waist Gunner would have stood at the left waist window, but later in the war, the Radio Operator manned the left waist gun. At the rear of the waist area is the tail gunner’s position.
Sitting across the tarmac was the B-24 Witchcraft. I have walked through Witchcraft many times, but this day I missed the walk-through tour.
John and I checked out the P-51 Mustang, Toulouse Nuts, too.
After a couple of hours admiring the planes and talking to several other visitors to the Collings tour, it was time for the Nine-O-Nine’s last flight before leaving for the tour’s next stop. I was lucky enough to take a flight a couple of years ago, so this time I kept my feet on the ground and recorded videos. John, however, was getting a ride on the Nine-O-Nine and took to the skies with Leesburg’s last group of the day.
William “Bill” Campbell wanted to fly the B-17 to honor a friend’s dad who was a gunner on a B-17 crew in WWII and to get a taste of what it was like to fly on one. But Bill had also wanted to fly a P-51 Mustang since the late 1950’s, when he attended air-sea rescue training with the West Virginia Air National Guard at Kanawha Airport (now Yeager Airport). There were P-51’s in the same squadron while he was there, but they were being phased out, and he never had the opportunity to take one up. So earlier this day, before Bill had his flight in the B-17, he was strapped into the Mustang for a half hour of flight training. Bill, an experienced pilot, had the time of his life performing loops, rolls, inverted flight, and other aerobatics in the WWII fighter plane. A P-51 and a B-17 flight the same day? I guess it just doesn’t get any better than that.
John DeFrancesco was a B-17 pilot in the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force and was stationed at Grafton Underwood, England during WWII. John finished his thirty-five required missions with a bail out over Germany on January 8, 1945. After his POW liberation and the end of WWII, John remained in the Air Force Active Reserves until the late 1960’s when he went into the Inactive Reserves. In 1984, John retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel. You can read more about John here.
Robert B. Arserio, a retired Air Force Captain, heard many stories of the WWII bombers when he was stationed with the US Air Force at RAF Upper Heyford in England in the mid-1970’s. His father served in the US Army in WWII and was in the first occupational forces in Japan stationed in Yokohama. Robert sees the Warbirds almost yearly on their Florida tour and first flew on the Nine-O-Nine with his son twenty years ago in Boca Raton.
Oscar I. “Chip” Chenoweth brought his grandson Levi Barnes out to see the Warbirds and take a ride on the B-17. Both of Chip’s parents were pilots. His father was a navy ace who flew in the Aleutians at the battle of Attu with the VC-21 and then transferred to the VF-17 (known as Blackburn’s Irregulars) in the south Pacific. Chip’s mother was Miss Miami Aviation at the 1939 World’s Fair. Chip’s mother and father went out on their first date December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Levi took his first-ever flight in a Skylane 172 in October and eleven days later he took his second flight on the Nine-O-Nine with his great-grandfather’s squadron patch in his shirt pocket. I know his great-grandparents would have been proud.
John Marteeny wanted to take a ride on the Flying Fortress because his father, Donald Marteeny, was an Armorer in a B-17 bomb group, the 97th, in England, North Africa, and Italy from 1942 to 1944 during WWII. The 97th Bomb Group flew the Eighth Air Force’s first heavy bomber mission from Grafton Underwood, England when they bombed a marshalling yard at Rouen on August 17, 1942. In September 1942, the 97th Bomb Group was reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force and left England for the Mediterranean theater, and later was assigned to the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy.
After the 97th Bomb Group moved out of Grafton Underwood, the 384th Bomb Group moved in. Grafton Underwood is the same base from which John DeFrancesco and my dad, George Edwin Farrar, flew their missions with the 384th.
Sonny Rohm has loved the B-17 since he was twelve and at sixty-nine decided it was time to take a ride on one. He also wanted to pay tribute to the brave men who flew them into battle during WWII and to the WWII Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) who ferried new planes from factories to military bases, tested newly overhauled planes, and towed targets for gunnery practice (with live ammunition).
We would all like to thank you, Collings Foundation, for bringing your Warbirds to Central Florida. And we’d like to offer a special thanks for a truly memorable flight aboard the Nine-O-Nine to Tour Flight Coordinator Jamie Mitchell and Crew Chief André . We all had an exceptional day and we can’t wait till next year!
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017
Have you ever toured a WWII B-17? Climbed the ladder up through the front hatch near the nose? (No, that ladder wasn’t original standard equipment). Looked to your left into the nose where the bombardier and navigator sat? Crawled up through the cockpit and top turret area? Crossed the catwalk over the bomb bays? Walked through the radio room, circled the ball turret, and strode past the waist guns to peer back into the tail before exiting through the waist door down a shorter ladder? (No, not original standard equipment either).
How about going for a flight in one? There are a few touring B-17’s in the United States that travel to from city to city offering both walk-through tours and flights. I have walked through both the Nine O Nine and the Aluminum Overcast. I have flown in the Nine O Nine. Though the flight was only a half hour long, it was probably the most exciting half hour of my life. I can’t seem to get enough of the B-17 and anytime one is in the vicinity of central Florida, I’ll go to see it. And I think that even though the flights in one are very expensive, I think I’ll have to do that again one day, too.
The Collings Foundation
Update November 13, 2022: The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour is currently on hold.
Update January 4, 2020: The Collings Foundation returns to touring on January 17, 2020, starting in Deland, Florida. Their web site lists several Florida tour stops in January and February, with other locations listed starting in July. Check their web site’s schedule for additional stops later in the year. The Wings of Freedom tour will continue without the B-17, Nine O Nine, which suffered a total loss along with the loss of the pilot, co-pilot, and five passengers in the October 2, 2019 crash.
Update October 2, 2019: Sadly, the Collings Foundation’s B-17 Nine O Nine crashed this morning at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut around 10 a.m.
You can check the Collings Foundation’s touring schedule here.
The Collings Foundation show tours include a Consolidated B-24J Liberator, Witchcraft, a B-25, and a TF-51D (P51) Mustang. If you are considering a flight experience, check here for more information and pricing.
Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)
The EAA’s B-17 is the Aluminum Overcast. You can check the EAA’s touring schedule and pricing here.
If you are considering a flight experience, check here for more information.
In addition to the B-17 Aluminum Overcast, the EAA also tours with a Ford Tri-Motor, the Tin Goose, however it has a different schedule of tour stops. To view the Tri-Motor tour stops, check here.
The Liberty Foundation
The Liberty Foundation has a new website which notes an update that the Liberty Belle B-17 “will again take to the air in the future.” Please check back for updates.
I’m not sure what happened to the Liberty Foundation’s B-17, Ye Olde Pub (previously Madras Maiden).
Commemorative Air Force, Gulf Coast Wing (GCWCAF)
The GCWCAF’s B-17 was Texas Raiders. Per a notice on the Commemorative Air Force website,
On Saturday, November 12, 2022, two aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision at Dallas Executive Airport. The aircraft were the B-17 Flying Fortress Texas Raiders and a P-63 Kingcobra, both out of the Houston area. Currently we do not have information on the status of the flight crews as emergency responders are working the accident. The Commemorative Air Force is working with local authorities, the FAA, and the NTSB will conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of the accident. Any available information will be posted here. Our thoughts and prayers are with those involved in the accident and their families.
Commemorative Air Force, Airbase Arizona
The Arizona Commemorative Air Force’s B-17 is Sentimental Journey. You can check their touring schedule here.
If you are considering a flight experience, more information and pricing are included on the same web page.
Yankee Air Museum
The Yankee Air Museum’s B-17 is Yankee Lady. The Yankee Lady’s touring schedule, pricing, and more information is posted here. (Keep scrolling down the page for flight experience information).
In addition to the B-17 Flying Fortress Yankee Lady, the Yankee Air Museum show tours include a B-25, Rosie’s Reply, a C-47, Hairless Joe, a UH-1 Huey, Greyhound, and a Ford 4-AT-B Tri Motor (coming soon).
Other Surviving B-17s
There are more surviving B-17’s in the world, but I believe the ones on the above list are the only ones that schedule tour stops around the United States. Please contact me if you know of another one I should add to this list.
For a list of surviving B-17’s, including those that are air worthy and those that are not, please see Wikipedia’s list here. It includes other B-17’s that you can tour at their home museums in the United States that do not go on tour around the country.
Links last updated March 7, 2022.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2017