I am glad I got my ride in one of their vintage birds when I did. I wrote a post about my flight in their B-25 back in September. You can read it here.
On Wednesday October 2, 2019, The Collings Foundation B-17G the "Nine-O-Nine" crashed at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, CT. Five passengers, the pilot, and co-pilot were killed in a fiery crash that ended up off the runway into the de-icing equipment storage area. All vintage aircraft flights provided by Collings were immediately suspended pending investigation.
The full news story on AVWEB about the FAA decision can be read here. I found the following three paragraphs especially shocking:
Specifically, the FAA found that Collings failed to train
the aircraft crew chief, as specified in its operating guidelines. “In an
interview with the FAA on March 2, 2020, the crew chief verified that he
received no initial training and was unaware of basic information concerning
operations under the exemption. Instead, he only received on-the-job training.
This lack of training indicates Collings failed to fulfill the terms of condition
and limitation Nos. 4 and 7,” the FAA’s document said. The two limitations
require specific training and documentation. Further, the crew chief told the
FAA he was unaware that a safety and risk management program existed at all for
the foundation. “This absence of awareness and lack of training establishes
that Collings failed to maintain and apply on a continuous basis a safety and
risk management program that met or exceeded the criteria specified in the FAA
Policy,” the rescission document said.
Although the NTSB continues to investigate the crash and has not
determined a final cause, the FAA’s initial findings found significant
maintenance issues with two of the engines. “Inspection of the engines
on the B-17G … established magneto and ignition failures existed.
Regarding engine 4, to prevent the magneto P-leads from separating from
the magnetos, someone had attempted to rig the magneto leads in place
with safety wire. Inspection and testing of engine 4 left magneto
revealed the movement of the safety-wired lead caused grounding to the
case, which rendered the magneto lead inoperative. In addition, the
right magneto of engine 4 was found unserviceable. The cam follower was
worn beyond limits and the point gap was less than half the measurement
required by service documents. When tested, the magneto produced weak or
no spark to four of the nine cylinders. All spark plugs were inspected
and required cleaning and all electrode gaps were out of tolerance,” the
FAA document said.
The initial investigation revealed that the number 3 engine also had
fouled spark plugs, with gaps out of tolerance. Signs of detonation were
found in both engines. “As a result of these findings and other
information, the FAA questions whether the engines were inspected
adequately and in accordance with the applicable maintenance
requirements,” the FAA said. “Moreover, the records memorializing the
inspections and maintenance performed on the B-17G lack key information
and, in some cases, indicate maintenance was either not performed at all
or was performed in a manner contrary to the applicable requirements,”
the document said.
As a former passenger, I do understand that warbirds are designed for combat, not comfort. I felt well informed enough on the basic procedures for my flight. I knew that if we were going down, at 1500 feet in altitude and no parachutes, it would most likely not be survivable. They do not have the safety features or comforts we are used to in modern aircraft. I was good with all that and wanted to fly anyway. That said, taking maintenance shortcuts like the ones they have discovered is very disappointing. I doubt they will receive any more of my money unless drastic changes are made, documented, and verified.
The official document from the FAA, called "Rescission of Exemption 6540" can be found by clicking here.