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November 14, 2022

Thank You, CAF Pilots and Crews

Vintage aircraft pilots and crews devote much of their lives honoring the war record of these aircraft and the military crews who maintained and flew them.

As the son of a World War II Naval Aviator who flew F4U Corsairs, my father instilled in me a lifelong enthusiasm for historic aircraft restoration and operations. Today, I have friends who have restored and are flying the venerable Corsair and another more common but rare aircraft, the P-51 Mustang. Over the last 30 years, I have accumulated time with great pilots in a variety of modern and vintage military aircraft, but the highlight of all those flights would be hours in a P-51D.

Given that shared enthusiasm many of us hold for these old birds, we were evermore deeply saddened last weekend when two classic WWII Commemorative Air Force aircraft collided at an airshow in Dallas, and all six on board both planes perished in a moment. Those images will remain imprinted into my memory, along with others of such accidents over the years.

Vintage aircraft pilots and crews devote much of their time, energy, and resources to demonstration flights of historic aircraft — bringing joy to hundreds of thousands of folks every year while honoring the war record of these aircraft and the military crews who maintained and flew them. Many of those who pilot old aircraft are themselves, distinguished veteran military pilots. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to fly with the CAF know well the spirit and devotion of these pilots and crews.

In this case, it would appear that the pilot of the Bell P-63 Kingcobra fighter, Craig Hutain, lost situational awareness at a critical moment as he was forming up with a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber named “Texas Raiders.” Factors include the Kingcobra’s approach angle and the fact that it has notoriously constricted cockpit visibility. I believe the Kingcobra encroached on the heavy aircraft show line, such lines generally being separate for larger and smaller aircraft, and because of the approach angle, Hutain never saw the B-17 before the collision.

The B-17 pilots and crew included Captain Terry Barker, Captain Len Root, Major Curtis Rowe, Kevin Michels, and Dan Ragan.

We offer our gratitude for the patriotic devotion and dedication of these men and all their colleagues, and our deepest sympathy and prayers for their families and friends.

(Update: An assessment by Richard McSpadden, former Thunderbird flight leader, confirms my suspicion about the major contributing factors leading to the accident.)

Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776

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