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After Deadly Crash, Mass. Foundation Readies Another WWII-Era Bomber For Flight

Visitors at the Collings Foundation's American Heritage Museum in Hudson file past a model of the B-17 that crashed in October. (Callum Borchers WBUR)
Visitors at the Collings Foundation's American Heritage Museum in Hudson file past a model of the B-17 that crashed in October. (Callum Borchers WBUR)

The Massachusetts nonprofit whose World War II-era bomber crashed in October, killing seven, is seeking permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly tourists on another vintage plane of the same model, according to a summary of a phone call the agency released this week.

The Collings Foundation, of Stow, is readying a replacement Boeing B-17, the same kind of aircraft that went down in Connecticut three months ago, but work appears to be taking longer than the group expected.

In the meantime, the Collings Foundation plans to resume flying passengers on other old planes later this month. The foundation had grounded its fleet after the deadly accident. Collings offers rides and pilot training sessions — which cost $425 to $3,400 — on a national roadshow it calls the "Wings of Freedom Tour."

The FAA authorizes such tourist flights through the Living History Flight Experiences program, which exempts vintage planes from some modern safety requirements.

The Collings Foundation's program permit expires at the end of March. Collings submitted an application for renewal last August, requesting approval of 11 planes — including the B-17 that would crash months later.

On a Dec. 16 call with an FAA official, Collings Foundation chief pilot Robert Pinksten inquired about gaining approval for a replacement B-17, according to a public record of the call. The foundation first made the request in November, according to the call log.

It is unclear, however, whether the replacement will be ready in time to be included on a new permit.

"Mr. Pinksten noted the B-17 would not be ready for an inspection in the next month or so," the FAA official, Thomas Leahy, wrote in his summary of the call. Pinksten said the Collings Foundation may "withdraw the B-17 and add later," Leahy wrote, noting that the group had previously asked for an expedited permit renewal that would enable it to add another vintage bomber, a B-25, to its fleet in January.

The Collings Foundation did not respond to a WBUR inquiry.

Collings has owned the second B-17 since 2015, when it purchased one from the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon. At the time, the foundation said the plane "will be a fantastic addition to the national Wings of Freedom Tour."

The aircraft has not yet joined the tour, however, and has not flown regularly in almost two decades. According to Evergreen, the plane was originally restored in 1990 and used in air shows until 2001, when it was grounded because of mechanical concerns.

The Collings Foundation performed sufficient work on the plane to make a "flawless flight" from Oregon to Florida in 2017, according to the foundation's website. In Florida, the site says, "a thorough restoration" by American Aero Services "has been underway to restore the aircraft back to its original WWII B-17G model configuration."

American Aero Services has posted photographs of the work on its website.

Related:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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