NTSB: Pilot error likely caused vintage bomber's fatal crash

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National Transportation Safety Board

This photo, provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, shows damage from a World War II-era B-17 bomber plane that crashed on Oct. 2, 2019, at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. Pilot error was the probable cause of the 2019 crash that killed seven people and wounded six others, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released Tuesday, April 13, 2021, that also cited inadequate maintenance as a contributing factor. (NTSB via AP, File)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Pilot error probably caused the 2019 crash of a World War II-era bomber in Connecticut that killed seven people and wounded six others, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released Tuesday. It also cited inadequate maintenance as a contributing factor.

The four-engine, propeller-driven B-17G Flying Fortress bomber with 13 people aboard crashed at Bradley International Airport, north of Hartford, during a traveling vintage aircraft show on Oct. 2, 2019.

The pilot, Ernest “Mac” McCauley, reported a problem with one of the engines shortly after takeoff, and the plane crashed into a maintenance building and burst into flames after striking the runway lights during a landing attempt.

The NTSB said the flight data indicated that the landing gear was extended too early, adding drag that slowed the plane, and it was traveling too slow on its return to the airport.

“The B-17 could likely have overflown the approach lights and landed on the runway had the pilot kept the landing gear retracted and accelerated to 120 mph until it was evident the airplane would reach the runway,” the NTSB said.

In the report, there was also a call on the Federal Aviation Administration to adopt tighter regulations on vintage aircraft flights offered to the public.

McCauley, 75, of Long Beach, California, was a veteran pilot who colleagues said had great skills flying the B-17G. He and co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, of Jacksonville, Florida, were killed in the crash, along with five of the 10 passengers. The plane's mechanic, Mitchell Melton, of Hawkins, Texas, was the only crew member to survive.

The NTSB said there was a power loss in two of the four engines during the flight, a problem it blamed on McCauley's “inadequate maintenance." McCauley also served as the maintenance director of the plane's owner, the Collings Foundation, based in Stow, Massachusetts.