Six Killed in Crash Between WWII-Era Planes at Dallas Air Show

A World War II-era bomber and fighter collided during an air show performance in Dallas on Nov. 12, killing six members of the Commemorative Air Force who were flying as pilots and crew.

On Nov. 14, the CAF posted the names of the volunteers flying the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress and Bell P-63F Kingcobra:

  • Terry Barker
  • Craig Hutain
  • Kevin “K5” Michaels
  • Dan Ragan
  • Leonard “Len” Root
  • Curt Rowe

“We are heartbroken to announce that the following members of the Commemorative Air Force went west … at the Wings Over Dallas WWII Airshow while performing,” the organization said. “Please join us in mourning the loss of our good friends and fellow airmen.” 

The CAF owns 180 vintage airplanes in the U.S. and Europe, flying about 6,500 hours a year in performances and training, said Henry “Hank” Coates, the organization’s president and CEO, in a press conference later the day of the crash. The CAF produced the Nov. 12 event at the Dallas Executive Airport, which is where the CAF has its headquarters.

Coates described the show as “a World War II flight demonstration-type air show where we highlight the aircraft and their capabilities and what actually happened in World War II—it’s very patriotic.” About 4,000-6,000 people were estimated to be in attendance.

At about 1:15 p.m. local time, the two aircraft were flying in a formation the CAF refers to as “bombers on parade,” Coates said.

Videos recorded by witnesses show a number of aircraft flying in formation when the P-63 appears to approach from behind and collide with the B-17.

“The B-17 normally has a crew of four to five—that was what was on the aircraft. And the P-63 is a single-piloted fighter-type aircraft,” Coates said.

“The maneuvers that they were going through were not dynamic at all.” 

He couldn’t speculate on the cause of the crash pending an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. He said a preliminary report will come out first, followed at “a significantly later time” by the findings of a more thorough investigation involving engineering analysis and interviews.

“What I can tell you is, you’ve seen the same video that I’ve seen,” Coates said. “Until the FAA allows me to speak to what happened, it will be inappropriate for me to speculate.”

Volunteers maintain and fly the CAF’s fleet, adhering to what Coates described as “a very strict process of training and hours. All pilots are vetted very carefully. Many of them have been flying for us for 20 or 30 years or longer. So this is not … their first rodeo. These guys are very well versed. … Many of them are airline pilots, retired airline pilots, retired military pilots like myself.”

He said his wife recently rode in the B-17, “and I’d put her in it again. This is not about the aircraft. It’s just not, let me tell you. The aircraft are great aircraft. They are safe. They are very well maintained. The pilots are very well trained.” 

He said families and others involved or who witnessed the crash are receiving counseling.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, President of the Air & Space Forces Association, said in a statement that the association “extends its deeper sympathies to the families of those lost in the Nov. 12 crash of the Commemorative Air Force’s B-17 Flying Fortress and P-63 Kingcobra. The individuals who lost their lives in this tragic accident were working ardently to educate the public about America’s airpower history and also honoring America’s Air Force veterans.

“This is an incredibly important mission, keeping alive this crucial period in our nation’s history. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the lost.”