Mhonor thousands of spectators of the “Wings over dallas” Airshow in Dallas, Texas witnessed a tragic accident on Saturday when two vintage planes collided during a demonstration. A 1940s propeller-driven fighter, a P-63 Kingcobra, rammed a four-engined bomber from that era, a Boeing B-17. The former bomber immediately broke in two, and the P-63 was completely destroyed in the collision. Neither the crew members of the B-17 nor the pilot in the cockpit of the P-63 had a chance of surviving. The air show was canceled immediately after the accident.
It was not finally clear until Sunday whether the accident claimed up to six lives or possibly even more. Because usually the Boeing B-17, nicknamed “Flying Fortress” because of its robustness, operated by a crew of three to five people, including two pilots at all times. Possibly even more people could have been on board the vintage car. The single-engine P-63 Kingcobra, on the other hand, always only has room for the pilot.
At air shows with aircraft from the second World War these are often presented in a formation consisting of several machines at the same time in order to give spectators the most realistic possible impression of the time they were used at the time. That is why former bombers, as was customary at the time, are presented with at least one escort fighter from the same era. Pilots of these so-called warbirds are all professionals with many thousands of flight hours and extensive experience on the respective vintage aircraft.
Professionals with many thousands of flight hours
Nevertheless, it is extremely important that such formation flights are practiced again and again. After all, the participating warbirds sometimes reach speeds of up to 600 km/h during their demonstrations. In addition, a comprehensive briefing for all pilots involved must be carried out before each flight in order to minimize risks. It is discussed on which route and altitude the flight should take place and what speed is to be maintained. In addition, it is determined which pilot has to fly where in the respective phase of the formation flight and when the formation breaks up in order to finally hover one after the other for landing. This is so important because the pilots cannot always see each other due to the different designs of their aircraft, for example as low- or high-wing aircraft. Every aviator must therefore trust that the other pilots always adhere to the agreed procedures and positions in order to be able to fly safely. In addition, all pilots in a formation are always in radio contact with each other during the demonstration in order to be able to react flexibly.
It is unclear why the pilot of the single-engine fighter, as can be seen on several eyewitness videos, approached the B-17 from the side at high speed and then rammed it. He might not have seen the Boeing from his position. A medical emergency for the pilot would be just as conceivable. A technical defect on the P-63 cannot be ruled out either.
Many of the specimens in action during World War II
Since both planes were largely destroyed by the collision and impact with the ground, and a subsequent fire, it could be nearly impossible for accident researchers to glean information from the wreckage of the planes. Instead, investigators will probably focus on the numerous videos with the seconds to the collision. From this, the cause of the accident can be determined. These vintage aircraft do not have recording devices for cockpit conversations or flight data, as required in modern airliners.
From 1936 to 1945 more than 12,000 examples of the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber type that crashed in Dallas were manufactured by Boeing. Many of these were deployed over Germany during World War II. Despite the large number, airworthy examples of the aircraft equipped with four radial engines are rare today. The crashed P-63 Kingcobra from the manufacturer Bell Aircraft is also an extremely rare aircraft. More than 3,000 of these American propeller-driven fighters were built between 1943 and 1945. Its special feature: The V-12 engine was installed in the fuselage behind the pilot and drove the propeller at the front via a remote shaft. Most of the approximately 600 km/h fast P-63 were delivered to the Russian armed forces by the Americans as part of the “Lend-lease” program during the Second World War. But the French Air Force also received dozens of fighter planes of this type in the mid-1940s. They were later used by France in the Indochina War.