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.

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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)