Preliminary report issued on B-17 crash at Bradley that killed 7

A preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board on the deadly crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress at Bradley International Airport on Oct. 2 indicates that all inspections and certificates were up to date, and that weather was likely not a factor in the crash.

The four-page report, which details what happened in the minutes before the plane crashed with 13 people on board, does not identify a cause. The NTSB will issue a final report, but that isn't expected for at least a year.

Shortly after takeoff, Ernest "Mac" McCauley, the pilot of the four-engine, propeller-driven plane, reported engine trouble. He told an air traffic controller that he wanted to return to Bradley because "the airplane had a 'rough mag' on the No. 4 engine."

The controller instructed McCauley to return and use runway 6. He canceled the approach of another airplane and "advised the pilot to proceed however necessary to runway 6," the report says.

When asked about the airplane's progress, McCauley said "they were 'getting there' and on the right downwind leg" – the last communication received from the aircraft.

The plane struck approach lights about 1,000 feet before the runway, then hit the ground about 500 feet from runway, before it veered right off the runway and collided with vehicles and a de-icing fluid tank, then burst into flames.

"The majority of the cabin, cockpit, and right wing were consumed by postimpact fire," the report says.

The 75-year-old McCauley, co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, and five passengers were killed. Four of the passengers and the flight mechanic were seriously injured, and one passenger and one person on the ground incurred minor injuries.

NTSB officials have recovered the wreckage, including all four of the plane's engines, for analysis. A fuel sample of the No 3. engine's two fuel tanks "was absent of debris or water contamination," the report says.

"Following the accident, the fuel truck used to service the airplane was quarantined and subsequent testing revealed no anomalies of the truck's equipment or fuel supply. Additionally, none of the airplanes serviced with fuel from the truck before or after the accident airplane, including another airplane operated by the Collings Foundation, reported any anomalies," the report says.

The plane was owned and operated by the Stow, Mass.-based Collings Foundation, which brings its vintage aircraft to local airports around the country for tours and offers flights for $450 per person. The foundation has suspended flight operations for the remainder of 2019.

The B-17 Flying Fortress, a 75-year-old aircraft, was flying under a "living history flight experience" exemption granted by the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing Collings to charge passengers for flights to cover the cost of maintaining and preserving its aircraft. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has asked the FAA for more details on the exemption and the various requirements involved.

The report says that 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." The aircraft's most recent annual inspection was completed on Jan. 16.

McCauley was said to be one of the most experienced B-17 pilots in the country and had flown for Collings for 20 years. The NTSB report indicates he and the co-pilot had the proper certifications to operate the aircraft.

j.bergman@theday.com

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