Living History Flight Experience exemption- adequate safety protections?

Collings and its planes
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LHFE aircraft involved in visible crash

Collings Foundation held exemption based on years of experience and precedents

FAA reviewing Collings and LHFE

Exemption should be continued!!!


The tragic October 2 crash of a vintage Boeing B–17 Flying Fortress in Connecticut has brought to the fore whether the safety measures associated with flying under an FAA Living History Flight Experience are adequate to minimize the risk of the carriage of fare-paying passengers on these historic aircraft. The NTSB investigation is not yet final, although a preliminary report has been published. A Senator from the state has raised the question, not yet concluded, about the safety standards.

The FAA’s regulatory structure is based on a series of safety levels. The continuum begins with the general public compensating the operator to qualified individuals who select their own aircraft (under very limited circumstances, prescribed compensation may be involved). Those respective descriptions match very precise (in application and requirements) regulations – 14 CFR Parts 91,125,129,135 and 121 in order of increasing regulatory strictures. LHFE is a special authority in that it is based on an exemption.

Twenty-five years ago, Secretary Peña argued that there should be “One Level of Safety” a concept which never fully developed. Should that “one size fits all” be applied here? Or does the below information convince you that the conditions applied to Collings and others are well designed and provide an equivalent level of Safety?

Sec. Pena and 1 level of Safety






Collings, FAA Reach Agreement On Possible Future Flights

The Collings Foundation is hopeful it will be able to resume passenger flights on its historic aircraft after the FAA finishes a review of its operations. The Collings B-17 Nine-Oh-Nine crashed at Bradley International Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, in October, killing seven and injuring another seven, including one person on the ground. It canceled the remainder of its Wings of Freedom 2019 tour. The crash occurred just as the foundation was submitting its application for the FAA exemption that allows it to carry passengers and the group announced on Friday that it had reached an agreement with the FAA on the future of its passenger flights.

“We have agreed to a temporary stand down with our LHFE flights (Living History Flight Experience) as we work with the FAA thoroughly addressing questions regarding operations,” the organization said in a statement. “We hope to have this resolved soon.” The exemption is required because the warbirds don’t meet current safety standards for flying paying passengers. The foundation charges between $425 and $3,400 for flights in its aircraft and it’s the cornerstone of its ongoing fundraising efforts. The group is launching its 2020 tour but conducting ground tours only at $5 apiece until the exemption is granted. Meanwhile, it has started work on restoration of another B-17 acquired in 2015 from the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon.

Some of the history behind this:


October 15, 2019By Jim Moore

A preliminary NTSB report on the fatal October 2 crash of a vintage Boeing B–17 Flying Fortress in Connecticut includes evidence that the aircraft may have had trouble with more than one of its four engines.

NTSB drone picture of BDL crash

An NTSB drone perspective on the wreckage of the B-17 that crashed October 2 at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut.

Photo courtesy of the NTSB via YouTube.

Seven people including the pilot, co-pilot, and five passengers died after the Boeing B–17G operated by the Collings Foundation crashed 1,000 feet short of the Bradley International Airport runway the crew was attempting to return to.

The ill-fated flight of the World War II bomber never left the traffic pattern or climbed more than about 500 feet above the ground, according to the NTSB preliminary report on the accident released October 15.

The flight departed at 9:47 a.m. with three crewmembers and 10 passengers aboard. One of the pilots requested a return to the airport within three minutes, the NTSB report states. The crew reported a “rough mag” on the No. 4 engine and acknowledged a landing clearance from the tower moments later. “At that time, the airplane was about 300 ft agl on a midfield right downwind leg for runway 6,” the report states.

The tower controller inquired about the flight’s progress back to the runway, and the pilot responded they were “getting there” and on the right downwind, the report states. There were no further communications. Witnesses and airport surveillance cameras confirmed the aircraft struck approach lights about 1,000 feet short of the runway, then hit the ground about 500 feet short of the runway. It continued onto the runway surface before veering right, crossing a grassy area and striking vehicles and a deicing fluid storage tank. The aircraft was largely destroyed in a post-crash fire.

The pilot, Ernest “Mac” McCauley, 75, and co-pilot Michael Foster, 71, both died in the crash. Five passengers taking part in a flight operated under the FAA Living History Flight Experience exemption were also killed; five other passengers and one crew member were hurt, four of them seriously. One of the five passengers and one person on the ground suffered minor injuries.NTSB report

Some details in the report suggest the crew may have been trying to cope with trouble in two engines, not just one. Propellers attached to the No. 3 and No. 4 engines were found with blades in the feathered or partially feathered positions. The No. 3 engine was recovered from the top of the deicing fluid tank, and “one blade was impact damaged and near the feather position. The other two blades appeared in a position between low pitch and feather,” the NTSB report states. “One propeller blade exhibited a 5-inch tip separation and the separated tip sections were recovered from 100 ft and 700 ft from the main wreckage. The No. 4 engine was recovered from the deice building. All three propeller blades on the No. 4 engine appeared in the feather position.”

A fuel sample recovered from one of two fuel tanks supplying the No. 3 engine was found to be free of contamination, the report states. There is no mention of fuel testing or contamination that might have affected any of the other engines.

At the time of the aircraft’s most recent annual inspection on January 16, three of the four engines had zero hours since major overhaul; the No. 4 engine had 838.2 hours since its last major overhaul, the report states. The airplane underwent a 100-hour inspection on September 23, part of an airworthiness inspection program that included annual inspections, as well as 25-hour, 50-hour, 75-hour, and 100-hour progressive inspections in between annual inspections, the report states. The aircraft had flown 268 hours since the previous annual inspection at the time of the crash.

The report also noted that inspection of the wreckage determined that jackscrews, which actuate the flaps, were found in a position consistent with the flaps being retracted.

The Collings Foundation of Stow, Massachusetts, operated the B–17G known as Nine O Nine, and suspended the Wings of Freedom Tour for the remainder of the year soon after the crash. The organization recently emailed supporters seeking help advocating for continuation of the Living History Flight Experience (LHFE) exemptions:

“In the coming months, federal agencies will be reviewing the LHFE program for not only our organization, but many other organizations nationwide who continue to fly vintage aircraft as a part of their educational mission. As these reviews take place, we feel it is important for the voices of those impacted by the Wings of Freedom Tour over the years to be heard. We need to let federal agencies know that the LHFE program is important to you and other American citizens as an educational tool.”

Hundreds of comments were submitted following that email: As of October 15, more than 1,200 comments were posted on the public docket, with the overwhelming majority urging the FAA to continue the program. (No comments to the contrary were found during a search of the online docket.) Among those many supporters was Connecticut Air and Space Center Curator Christopher Soltis, who wrote urging extension of the Collings Foundation’s exemption: “If anything, more organizations should be encouraged to allow passengers to fly in these pieces of history.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has asked the FAA to review the applicable regulations, and questioned, in a statement reported by the Hartford Courant, the recency of the accident aircraft’s inspections.

“Overall, I would say that this report is consistent with my last urging to the FAA that it review the conditions for the exemption. There’s been another application for the extension of that application. The FAA will have to make a decision about that exemption for continued operation of the B–17s that belong to Collings,” Blumenthal told the newspaper. “My expectation is that it will want to consult with the NTSB before the final report is issued because the exemption expires in March and probably the report will not be done until after that.”

Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT)

Blumenthal questions exemption allowing passengers on vintage planes


Blumenthal announced Monday during a press conference that he is seeking the FAA to conduct a full examination of its Living History Flight Experience exemption program and specifically he wants information on the Collings Foundation exemption, which was renewed in March 2018.

“I am in no way advocating that these planes should be grounded, just that they should be made safe,” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal is asking the FAA to review the policy and current safety protections to determine if they are adequate.

“The questions I’m raising is how does the FAA justify the differences between these flights and others and what’s the rationale for treating them differently?” Blumenthal said.

eaa logo

A little background for the LHFE, its exemption and the Experimental Aircraft Association (from 2015 Federal Register —Policy Regarding Living History Flight Experience Exemptions for Passenger Carrying Operations Conducted for Compensation and Hire in Other Than Standard Category Aircraft:

“The FAA has historically found the preservation of U.S. aviation history to be in the public interest, including preservation of certain former military aircraft transferred to private individuals or organizations for the purpose of restoring and operating these aircraft. In 1996, the FAA received exemption requests from not-for-profit organizations to permit the carriage of persons for compensation in both Limited and Experimental category, former-military, historically-significant aircraft. These requests offered to provide a short in-flight experience to these aircraft in exchange for compensation, leading to the term Nostalgia Flights, then later Living History Flight Experience (LHFE), and provided a means for private civilian owners to offset the considerable restoration, maintenance and operational costs. The FAA determined that, in certain cases, operators could conduct LHFE flights at an acceptable level of safety and in the public interest, in accordance with appropriate conditions and limitations.

These original requests involved large, crew-served, piston-powered, multi-engine World War II (WWII) vintage aircraft. In order to maintain safe operations of these aircraft, the FAA required flight crewmembers to meet certain qualifications and training requirements that included FAA-approved training, maintaining training records, and reporting procedures. As the public availability of purchase for former military aircraft increased, along with an increase in public interest for maintaining and operating these aircraft, so grew the requests for LHFE relief.

In 2004, to address a range of new aircraft requests and clarify the FAA’s position, the FAA published a notice of policy statement (FAA-2004-17648). The policy limited LHFE relief to slower, piston-powered, multi-engine airplanes of WWII or earlier vintage, citing the unique opportunity to experience flight in aircraft such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator which could still be operated safely, considering limited parts and specialty-fuel supplies. In addition, qualifying aircraft would have no similar standard airworthiness counterpart that could allow a similar experience without the need for regulatory relief…

In 2007, after requesting and receiving public comment on the matter, the FAA published an updated policy statement (72 FR 57196) that provided consideration for any aircraft on a case-by-case basis, so long as the petitioner demonstrates that (1) there is an overriding public interest in providing a financial means for a non-profit organization to continue to preserve and operate these historic aircraft, and (2) adequate measures, including all conditions and limitations stipulated in the exemption, will be taken to ensure safety. Additionally, the FAA refined and expanded its previous list of criteria, requiring numerous aircraft-operation components, including crew qualification and training, aircraft maintenance and inspection, passenger safety and training, safety of the non-participating public, as well as manufacturing criteria, and a petitioner’s non-profit status. The FAA also included consideration for the number of existing operational aircraft and petitioners available to provide the historic service to the public.

The evolution of LHFE operations in the private sector, along with the availability of newer and more capable former military aircraft, raised new public safety and public policy concerns. The FAA accommodated several requests to operate more modern military jet aircraft. Conditions and limitations for operations grew in number, and were, in some cases, misinterpreted as permitting operations that the FAA did not contemplate or intend. Examples included cases of passengers manipulating the aircraft flight controls to proposals of LHFE flights performing aerobatic maneuvers, simulating aerial combat in the interest of “historical experience.”

Consequently, in 2011, the FAA published a new policy statement announcing a moratorium on LHFE exemptions for new operators and the addition of aircraft to existing LHFE exemptions. The moratorium permitted existing exemption holders to continue operations, and to renew their exemptions, but stated that the FAA would add clarifying limitations to all LHFE petitions renewed or extended during that time.

In June of 2012, the FAA held public meetings to gather additional technical input. Discussion addressed 35 questions posed by the FAA and included as part of the meeting notice. In addition to statements provided by the public meeting attendees, over 500 comments were received in the docket (Docket No. FAA-2012-0374) established for public input. The meeting was focused to address industry comments related to the LHFE policy notices of 2004 and 2007 and areas of concern based on safety recommendations, FAA internal discussions, and post 2007 developments. Small work groups were formed to discuss general policy, exemption issuance, limitations, weather minimums, pilot qualification and currency, and maintenance and inspection. The area of interest that generated the most discussion was regarding limitations placed on LHFE operations—specifically, passengers occupying crew seats or positions, aerobatics, and requirements for arresting gear for high performance jets. The largest general policy topic discussed was regarding whether the FAA planned on excluding turbojets or supersonic aircraft in the policy. The work groups also explored criteria for determining historical significance, replicas, operational control and responsible persons, manuals, compliance history, and training requirements.

The majority of the 519 written comments were either in favor of keeping the existing exemption policy or expanding on its provisions. Fifty-nine (11%) comment submissions desired no changes to the current LHFE policy. Eight commenters provided detailed comments to each of the questions posed within the FAA’s areas of interest. In regards to training, safety and operational control, a commenter stated his belief that the employees/pilots/crew of the aircraft for hire have annual training and that the aircraft should be on an FAA/manufacturer approved inspection program, and that this training and adherence to the required and recommended inspections/maintenance provides a reasonable level of government protection to the flying and non-flying public. Eight commenters suggested a more restrictive LHFE Exemption policy, and one commenter supported the use of drug testing for LHFE flight crews. One commenter suggested that good guidance already exists in the A008 Operations Specification of Part 135 certificate holders, and that much of that guidance can be reasonably applied to LHFE. The FAA concurs and finds good reason to include certain elements found in part 135; specifically, those related to operational control and document structure. 516 (99%) written comments expressed support for LHFE exemptions, while three (1%) were opposed.

The FAA also held meetings with curators at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and reviewed the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) report on Preserving DOD Aircraft Significant to Aviation History to understand how other organizations determine “historical significance” as part of determining criteria to satisfy “public interest”.

Also during the moratorium, two accidents involving LHFE operators occurred which led the FAA to further research and develop safety mitigations to operational and maintenance issues highlighted by the investigations. The need to develop a safety and risk management system as part of the new policy was evident, and supported by comments received. One such comment stated, in part that it is important to try and mitigate some of the risks and to inform the public about the risks of the activity.

Therefore, based on FAA research, comments and transcripts of the public meeting, as well as an evaluation of public safety risks, the FAA finds good reason to publish a new policy. While the FAA is lifting the 2011 moratorium with this policy, we are also setting forth specific criteria that the FAA will use in considering any LHFE petition for exemption, or petition to extend or amend an existing exemption.

FAA Policy…

A.Aircraft Must Be “Historically Significant”…

B. Designation of a Responsible Person and Operational Control Structure…

C. Safety & Risk Analysis

The FAA will use Safety Risk Management (SRM) and Equal Level of Safety (ELoS) principles to guide its safety review in connection with any future LHFE exemption petition or request. This safety review will include, but will not be limited to, an analysis of whether hazards and risks have been identified and responded to through appropriate mitigating strategies…

D. Manual System

Attorney: LHFE Programs In Danger Due To Misperceptions

October 2nd Crash Is The Only Recorded Accident With Fatalities Associated With Living History FlightsAlan Farkas

Commentary By: Alan L. Farkas, Chair Of The EAA Legal Advisory Council



Commentary on the B-17 accident in Windsor Locks is disturbing and misleading. Tremendous harm may accompany misperceptions of the benefits of Living History Flight Experiences (LHFE), their clean safety record, and the intense oversight provided by the FAA.

Historic military aircraft provide a unique role in educating the public about World War II and aviation history.  When these aircraft visit a local airport, crowds rush to climb aboard, talk to the crew, and learn about their role in history.  A rare few are able to take a short flight – experiencing the roar of the engines, the feel of the austere seats, the vibrations, the smells, and the views as they imagine what it may have been like to be a bombardier, a gunner, or a paratrooper. 90-year-old WWII vets spring to life as they relive their heroic past. Veterans share their experiences with their families, school children, and the public. Military personnel are reassured that their contributions will be remembered. Tomorrow’s soldiers develop respect (if not awe) for those in uniform.

Warbirds (retired military aircraft) were first allowed to carry paying passengers in 1989, and in 1996, the FAA strengthened their regulatory oversight to establish the LHFE program. Significantly, the October 2, 2019 B-17 accident is the only fatal crash of a LHFE flight. No other Warbird accidents were conducted under the LHFE program. The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) statistic of 21 accidents and 23 fatalities in similar military aircraft since 1982 (cited in multiple articles on the Nine-0-Nine accident) is misleading because it casts a wide net over all warbird operations. That statistic includes high risk aerial firefighting and privately-owned aircraft that operate under entirely different regulatory regimes – operations that prohibit paid passenger flights. Even so, of the 21 accidents cited by the NTSB, only three have occurred since January 1, 2000. Historic aircraft operations are becoming safer, not less so.

The LHFE program was thoroughly reviewed and reestablished in a 2015 policy statement and confirmed in section 532 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The LHFE ensures that the aircraft available for public flights demonstrate, “the equivalent level of safety” as standard category aircraft. As explained in the FAA policy statement, the LHFE program provides, “a means for civilian owners to offset the considerable restoration, maintenance and operational costs” of these aircraft.

In order to meet LHFE standards the aircraft have to qualify as historically significant (meaning previously operated by the U.S. military, no longer in service, and rare) and they must be operated by a public service organization with a formal and transparent chain of command that includes oversight of the pilots, crew, and maintenance operations.

The FAA ensures risk mitigation through comprehensive maintenance and training programs as well as the imposition of operational limits (including restrictions on where they can fly).  The manuals used for training and maintenance must meet rigorous standards that address experience and recurrent training, intensive inspection programs, and replacement of parts after specified time in service. In practice this means that only the aircraft designs are vintage – the parts are painstakingly refurbished, rebuilt, and overhauled. The procedures to maintain safety are state of the art. The crews are professional, dedicated, and focused.

This accident was indeed tragic. But sensationalizing the tragedy for personal gain does a disservice to our nation. Let’s not compound this tragedy by stifling a valuable program that has been safe, tremendously beneficial, and well-regulated.

Alan Farkas is an aviation lawyer, Co-Chair of the Aerospace Group at SmithAmundsen, LLC and Chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association Legal Advisory Council.

(Source: Alan Farkas. Image from file)

LHFR course

Hopefully, the FAA in depth safety review of the Collings Foundation’s aircraft, maintenance equipment/inventory/procedures, pilots, etc. so this LHFE can resume its operations with better standards and lower risks.

BDL crash picture


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1 Comment on "Living History Flight Experience exemption- adequate safety protections?"

  1. The conditions required by the FAA for the LHFE exemptions are reasonable, but they weren’t complied with by Collings. As the recent FAA revocation of Collings’ exemption highlights, the maintenance on “909” was awful – P-leads improperly connected, many spark plugs outside gap tolerances, evidence of inspections not being performed or being performed inadequately. The operational aspect was also bad news: NO internal oversight (the pilot was also the Director of Maintenance), non-existent training of the Crew Chief – whose duty station didn’t even have a seatbelt, utter disregard for the SMS.

    I’m also curious about the training of the pilots – although we’ll never know exactly what training they actually went through.

    The level of safety imparted by the LHFE exemption is only as good as the compliance of the operator. In this case, it appears as though Collings was intentionally and negligently non-compliant and the resulting horrific accident will almost certainly endanger the LHFE program. I am glad Collings lost their LHFE and I hope they never get it back. They flagrantly disregarded the trust of the public and endangered the viability of the LHFE program for compliant operators. It was an arrogant, stupid thing for them to do.

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