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December 4, 2023

Following fatal 2019 crash, Collings Foundation permanently grounds aircraft collection

A large room featuring a number of WWII era tanks and equipment. PHOTO/GRANT WELKER The collection at the American Heritage Museum includes a landing craft, in blue at right, used in Normandy on D-Day.

The Collings Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation based in Stow, has decided to ground all of its aircraft and put them on static display at its American Heritage Museum, following a 2019 crash involving a foundation-owned aircraft, which killed seven people

The fallout from the fatal accident combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties faced in attempting to recruit qualified pilots and maintenance volunteers led to the decision, according to an article in the Collings Foundation’s annual magazine published in November. 

A pillar of smoke rises out of the flaming wreckage of an airplane at a Connecticut airport.
Courtesy | IAFF Local S15
A B-17 aircraft crashed at Bradley International Airport in 2019.

“The Wings of Freedom tour played a critical role in inspiring future generations of aviators, engineers, and historians,” the article printed in the foundation’s annual magazine states. “The close encounter with these historic aircraft ignited a passion for aviation in countless individuals, some of whom went on to pursue careers in this field. As we transition the Tour, the Collings Foundation is comforted by what the tour has given to so many.”

The foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour launched in 1989, offering donors a chance to fly in a number of World War II-era aircraft at airports across the country. Starting with seven planes, the foundation’s collection eventually expanded to 50 aircraft representing conflicts from World War I to Vietnam.

The tour had been on hold since one of the foundation’s planes, a B-17 Flying Fortress known as Nine-O-Nine, crashed on Oct. 2, 2019 during a tour stop at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. Seven of the 13 people on-board the aircraft were killed, including the pilot and co-pilot. The six remaining occupants, plus one person on the ground, were injured. 

An April 2021 report conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board concluded pilot error to be the main cause of the accident, with inadequate maintenance being a contributing factor. Wrongful death lawsuits filed by lawyers representing victims and their families led to settlements from the foundation. 

Opened by the Collings Foundation in 2019, the American Heritage Museum is located in Stow, with its entrance and mailing address located in Hudson. The museum is housed in a 66,000-square-foot building, containing a number of war-related artifacts, including 15+ tanks. In addition to the displays, the museum hosts a number of living history events featuring battle reenactments and a program allowing members of the general public to drive tanks.

The Collings Foundation is undertaking a fundraising campaign to help pay for the costs associated with expanding the museum and delivering the aircraft to the facility, according to the article.

The foundation had $817,911 in revenue in fiscal 2021 along with $29 million in assets, according to the latest data available on the nonprofit database Guidestar.

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