Dallas Airshow Mid-Air Collision Analysis

On November 12th at approximately 13:25 local time, two aircraft collided at the 'Wings Over Dallas' airshow. Aircraft involved were a 1945 B-17 registered N7227C, and a Bell P-63 registered N6763. A total of 6 fatalities have been confirmed out of the 6 combined occupants of each aircraft.

 

Collision Video #1

Multiple videos of the incident quickly spread on social media, providing an insight into what may have caused the accident. Here is one witness video showing the collision:

Video via twitter: https://twitter.com/GianKaizen/status/1591521366247112704


There appears to be no urgency from either aircraft to perform evasive maneuvers to avoid the collision, as likely neither aircraft was aware of the other's presence until the final moment. Immediately after the collision, the P-63 is destroyed, and the B-17 breaks up into two major parts before rapidly losing altitude. A large fire quickly broke out as witnesses watched in shock. It is now confirmed there were 5 occupants in the B-17, and 1 occupant in the P-63, with no survivors.


Collision Video #2

An alternative video gives some more information as to why the aircraft involved did not make an attempt to avoid each other.

Video via twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidSFOX4/status/1591522623376211968


From this second video, it becomes clear that the P-63 was part of a flight of at least two aircraft. The B-17 appears to be demonstrating alone. We can also see that the B-17 would have had vision of the leading flight of two airplane on their left-hand side, however the P-63 involved in the crash may not have been within view in the moments leading up to the accident. Both accident aircraft appear to be in left-hand turns at the time of the collision, with the fighter leveling their wings in the final moments.

 

Wings over Dallas Flight Schedule

Looking at the flight schedule for the day of Saturday November 12th, both the B-17 and P-63 were timetabled to be performing two separate flight demonstrations between the hours of 11:00 and 14:30 local time. The full schedule can be seen here: https://wingsoverdallas.org/schedule/


B-17 Aircraft Analysis

Each video of the incident points toward the B-17 having little response to the fighter aircraft on their left-hand side. It is clear from early on in collision video #2 that the leading fighter would have been in sight of the B-17. From that point however, it is not yet understood if the B-17 was aware of the second aircraft behind. Video #1 shows a slight level off of the wings moments before the collision. This level off could have been to maintain further separation from the leading fighter aircraft.


P-63 Aircraft Analysis

The aircraft was in a tight left-hand bank angle at the moment of impact. Unless there was a sudden malfunction of the flight controls, or a sudden pilot incapacitation, it appears that the aircraft was not aware of their close proximity to the B-17 - suggested by the lack of an attempt to avoid the collision. Assuming that there were no major malfunctions with the aircraft, the pilot was likely fixated on maintaining their required distance with the fighter they were following. The attitude of the P-63 would have meant that the B-17 was effectively below the fuselage and right wing - almost impossible to spot. For the entire duration of video #2, the P-63 is in this left-hand bank angle.


Significance of the P-63 Flight Attitude

One limitation of low-wing aircraft is a constricted view of what is below the wings. In a left-hand turn, that means that anything to the right of the aircraft would become more difficult to spot. As is seen in the second video, the P-63 does seem to be in a left-hand turn. Being in a flight of two - with the leading aircraft close in front - the pilot of the P-63 may have been more focused on maintaining a safe distance from the other fighter, as opposed to looking out for other traffic.


ATC Communication

It is not yet known if either aircraft was talking to ATC or was aware of their close proximity to each other. It should be expected that during busy airshows such as the Wings over Dallas show, each aircraft has an understanding of potential traffic during their specific flight window. The P-63 aircraft could have been in their tight left turn to avoid entering airspace reserved for the B-17 - this is not yet confirmed.

 

Conclusion

Although too early to determine the exact cause, the amount of witness video gives a great amount of insight into what was the most likely fatal factor in this accident. Whilst timetabled to fly within the same timeframe, neither aircraft appeared to be aware of their close proximity to the other during the incident. Whilst the B-17 may have picked up on the lead fighter, they failed to understand that there was another following closely behind. On the side of the P-63, the pilot was likely pre-occupied in following their lead aircraft and maintaining the desired track for their demonstration. This already challenging situation for the pilot combined with the fact that the P-63 was in a tight left-hand turn, with limited visibility below the right wing, means the pilot likely never even saw the B-17 nearing as they flew towards them. Striking the main fuselage of the B-17 meant that from that moment on, both aircraft would be destroyed.

 

Your Thoughts

If you would like to share your comments or opinion on this incident and what caused it, leave a comment below! Feedback is also always appreciated. If you liked our explanation or thought we could improve something, let us know.


For now, keep flying and soar freely, forever. Andreas - TheAviationHub

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