FAA Issues Preliminary AD Affecting B-17 Fleet

Storm clouds gather over the B-17, both literally and figuratively. The FAA's recent Airworthiness Directive for the type casts a shadow over its future - though hopefully not a permanent one. (image by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
Aircorps Art Dec 2019


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today issued a preliminary Airworthiness Directive (AD) which will affect the operation of Boeing B-17E, F and G Flying Fortresses. The AD addresses a significant, wing-related issue which other B-17 operators are presently confronting. While this news may be a shock to some, it is not exactly surprising. Indeed, the Yankee Air Museum’s April 15th message announcing the voluntary grounding of their own B-17G, Yankee Lady (44-85829), left little doubt about the matter, all-but-confirming the FAA’s imminent action regarding the type…

The Yankee Air Museum decided to proactively cease flight operations of the B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Yankee Lady.’Recent inspections of other B-17s have discovered wing spar issues. As a result we expect a mandatory Airworthiness Directive to be issued by the FAA in the next few weeks regarding the matter. Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily ceasing our B-17 flight operations and awaiting direction from the FAA regarding necessary inspections and repairs that will be required. It is expected that the B-17 will not fly during the 2023 flying season. Please note that this only affects the B-17.

  The complete AD is available for review HERE, but the executive summary reads as follows…

“The FAA is adopting a new airworthiness directive (AD) for all Boeing Model B-17E, B-17F, and B-17G airplanes. This AD was prompted by a report indicating that the left front spar lower fitting had completely separated at the wing-to-fuselage joint, and the equivalent joint on the right side of the airplane was cracked. This AD requires inspections of the wing terminal-to-spar chord joints, and repair if necessary. The FAA is issuing this AD to address the unsafe condition on these products.”

While this is just a preliminary AD, and one still open to public comment, it seems likely that all present B-17 operators will have to ground their aircraft until they have both performed the necessary inspections and addressed any issues discovered. This will be a costly endeavor, for sure, but given the present situation, it seems the only prudent course of action. Hopefully, the other B-17s will pass their inspections without the need for any economically untenable repairs and can return to the air show circuit sooner rather than later. We will be sure to report any further details when we learn them.

Hopefully, given sufficient financial commitment and organizational determination, we may yet return to a time when multiple B-17s can gather at air shows across North America, as in this scene from the Yankee Air Museum’s Thunder Over Michigan event in 2003. (image by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

13 Comments

  1. Even though this AD covers all three of big tail B-17s, in reality, the only B-17 model flying today, is the G model, and the only airworthy F model in existence today; “Boeing Bee”, is owned by the Museum Of Flight, but is not flying, and there are no B-17Es in existence anymore.

    • Many thanks for writing in John. While your statement is partially true, i.e. the only Flying Fortresses currently flying are all B-17Gs, it is incorrect to say that no B-17Es exist, as there are at least four examples which survive in preservation and two of these are under restoration to fly (B-17E 41-9210 and B-17E 41-2595). Furthermore, there is at least one B-17F which is being resurrected to fly as well – this being B-17F 42-3455. Given enough time and resources, other examples may end up being rebuilt too.

      • My uncle flew in B-17’s in the 40’s. It’s been heartbreaking to see the losses the surviving B-17’s have suffered over the past year or so. Frankly, I think it’s time to LEAVE THEM ON THE GROUND. We all love the sound of those Wright Cyclones, but there’s too few B-17’s left to be worth the risk.

  2. An AD? Since the needed very high octane leaded gasoline fuel no longer exists what is used to fuel these aircraft these days?

  3. I would rather not see B-17s flying again. I have lost all confidence in the airworthiness of the aircraft as well as some confidence in the judgment of the people flying antique aircraft. It’s like waiting for something to happen.

  4. Who cares if only the g models are the only flying example today it still is a beautiful aircraft that flew 70 plus years ago I’m glad to see it fly well not right now but to a (hopefully) faster than we know will happen inspection and repair can’t wait to see them flying again and hopefully soon.as for the e and f models that are in a flyable restoration hopefully we can see them fly too.atleast this will keep from loosing anymore from accidents and failures to all crews flying all old warlords thanks for giving us a piece of flying history and be safe godspeed.

  5. That is sad. While it’s thrilling & educational to see B17’s & other WW2 warbirds fly at airshows,no matter how well maintained they are, fact is these are at least 78 years old airframes. Corrosion and metal fatigue and in flight wing flexing takes its toll. Just an engine failure on takeoff can result in catastropic fatal crash & burn. Forty years ago I used to skydive out WW2/Korean War era C45H Twin Beech aircraft & those required a spar mod kit even back then.

    • I respect your opinion. However, my father is over 70 years old, runs 2 miles every day and is in awesome shape. I will Not retire my father neither his 1955 Corvette. Americans have always been the pioneers and have face challenges and always work hard. Let’s keep our American way of life and keep them flying as per rules and regulations. They are an icon how Americans we have come together during time of crises and become triumph. I will donate to keep them flying.

  6. It’s sad for me to see the posts about grounding for good these wonderful aircraft. While they are old, any informed aviator (pilots, maintainers, restorers, etc) will tell you it’s all about proper maintenance. I say we maintain they well and keep’em flying.

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