Tragedy struck the Wings Over Dallas air show on November 12, 2022 when two World War II-era aircraft crashed mid-air. As of publishing, six are confirmed dead as a result of the accident, with Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson calling it a “terrible tragedy.”
The two aircraft, a Douglas B-17G Flying Fortress and a Bell P-63F Kingcobra, were flying at a low altitude around 1:20 PM local time when the crash occurred at the Dallas air show. Videos shared to social media show the front of the B-17 break off and both aircraft fall to the ground. Upon impact, the heavy bomber’s wings erupted into flames. While no one on the ground was injured, all six of those in the aircraft were pronounced dead.
Dozens of Dallas Fire-Rescue vehicles and law enforcement personnel responded to Dallas Executive Airport, where the air show was taking place. An examination of the surrounding area showed debris had been strewn across not only the airport grounds, but also a nearby strip mall and US Route 67.
According to the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents pilots working for commercial airline American Airlines, two former members, Len Root and Terry Barker, were among those who perished. While the exact configurations regarding who was flying on which aircraft is currently unknown, the P-63 is a single-pilot vehicle, while the B-17 can hold a crew of 10.
A WWII bomber just crashed at Dallas Executive Airport. It was part of the Commemorative Air Force’s Wings Over Dallas Show. Wing just came off as it made a pass over the airfield. Tragic and horrible to witness. #CAF #WingsOverDallas #WarBirds pic.twitter.com/oojv4KmUsX
— Christopher Kratovil (@chris_kratovil) November 12, 2022
The air show where the crash occurred was being hosted by Dallas-based non-profit Commemorative Air Force (CAF), in honor of Veterans Day. The organization is dedicated to preserving historical aircraft and showcasing them at events across the United States and Canada.
Wings Over Dallas was part of the CAF’s Air Power History Tour. Along with the B-17 and P-63, other historical aircraft featured included a Consolidated B-24 Liberator and a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, among many others. According to Hank Coates, CEO of the CAF, those piloting the aircraft at the air show were volunteers, the majority of which were retired airline and military pilots.
“This is not about the aircraft. It’s just not,” Coates told CNN. “I can tell you the aircraft are great aircraft, they’re safe. They’re very well-maintained. The pilots are very well-trained. So it’s difficult for me to talk about it, because I know all these people, these are family, and they’re good friends.”
Paul Martin, a member of the Army Air Forces Historical Association (AAFHA), added in an interview with The New York Times, “It’s heartbreaking for me to hear this, both on a human level and a historical level.”
I was at the Wings Over Dallas airshow and I watched the accident happen. The p63 was banking left and had the b17 in his blind spot. First pick is a cockpit of a p63. Proving that there was no way he could have seen the b17. May God be with the families involved. pic.twitter.com/2P8DW8VyfU
— Grant English (@gran18_) November 12, 2022
Between 4,000 and 6,000 spectators were present at the Dallas air show when the crash occurred. Speaking with the BBC, Christopher Kratovil, one of the attendees, shared how fast the reality of the situation set in on those present. “It went from being a fairly excited, energetic crowd… to complete silence and stillness, and a lot of people, including myself, turned their children towards them and away from the airfield because there was burning wreckage in the middle of the airfield,” he said.
He added in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, “It’s really tragic to lose one of the last operational B-17s in the world. It’s an important part of American history, it’s an important part of world history.”
The B-17 heavy bomber was integral to the Allies’ victory over the Germans during the Second World War. An estimated 12,731 were built between 1936-45, with 5,000 lost to combat. Most of those that remained were scrapped by the early 1960s. The one involved in the mid-air crash was identified as Texas Raiders, based on the logo on its nose.
While estimates vary, it’s believed between 2,300 and 3,300 P-63s were produced by Bell Aircraft between 1943-45. Despite being manufactured in the US, the fighter was primarily flown by the Soviet Union.
The accident put an end to the decades-long careers of the two aircraft involved. Texas Raiders entered service with the US Navy in July 1945, after being delivered to the US Army Air Forces. It was one of the last 20 manufactured by Douglas Aircraft, and served as a PW-1W Patrol Bomber. After the PB-1W was phased out in 1955, Texas Raiders was placed into storage and later sold to the CAF in 1967.
The P-63, operated by the now-shuttered CAF Airpower Museum, was one of just two “F” variants ever built. Unlike previous versions, it featured an Allison V-1710-135 engine and a larger vertical tail. It was one of only five P-63s to remain airworthy.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be conducting a joint investigation into the crash, which is expected to take up to two years to complete. According to the CAF, the events scheduled to take place on November 13, 2022 have been cancelled.