"Yankee Lady" in 2015. (Tom Huntington)
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Airshow attendees who want to see a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress thunder overhead or even take a flight in one are going to be disappointed this year. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an airworthiness directive that will ground all flyable B-17s due to an issue with wing spars. The AD will go into effect on June 1, 2023, and require inspections of the wing spars and repairs where necessary.

A vital structural component of an airplane’s structure, the wing spars are also where the wing attaches to the fuselage. The B-17 has four spars in each wing and the FAA had become involved after the spars had separated from the fuselage in a B-17. “The FAA considers this AD to be an interim action,” the directive stated. “The inspection reports that are required by this AD will enable the FAA to obtain better insight into the nature, cause, and extent of the discrepancies found on the affected airplanes. The information from the reports will help the FAA evaluate the risk to develop a long-term solution that will address the unsafe condition. Once final action has been identified, the FAA might consider further rulemaking.”

The Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan, which operates the B-17 “Yankee Lady,” had already grounded its airplane in response to the expected ruling. In an email sent out on April 15, the museum said, “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.”

A look at the cockpit in “Yankee Lady.”

The Yankee Air Museum also offers flights in the North American B-25 Mitchell “Rosie’s Reply,” the Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Hairless Joe,” the UH-1H Huey “Greyhound” and a Ford Trimotor.

Starting in 1935, Boeing and other manufacturers produced almost 13,000 B-17s. Currently there are only six airworthy B-17s left, and only three of those were still flying. The other two are “Sentimental Journey,” a Commemorative Air Force (CAF) aircraft based in Arizona and the Ericson Aircraft Collection’s “Ye Olde Pub” in Oregon. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) also has a flyable B-17, “Aluminum Overcast,” but grounded the airplane in April 2021 due to concerns about the spars.

A bombardier’s-eye-view in “Yankee Lady.”

The CAF’s B-17 “Texas Raider” was destroyed after an inflight collision with a P-63 Kingcobra at the Wings over Dallas airshow on November 12, 2022. The B-17 “Nine-o-Nine,” owned and operated by the Collings Foundation, was destroyed in a crash at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, on October 2, 2019, killing seven of the 13 people aboard. Neither accident was related to the wing spars.