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Lack of black boxes in Dallas air show crash could hamper investigation

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The vintage plane in Saturday’s deadly collision at a Dallas air show, as expected, had no flight data recorders, making social media crucial to the investigation, a federal official said Sunday.

“Neither aircraft was equipped with a flight data recorder or a cockpit data recorder,” National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham said at a news conference Sunday.

Photos and videos of the collision at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow, which killed all six people on board the plane, could be “very critical, as we don’t have flight data recorders,” he said.

While flight data recorders and other data equipment, including cockpit recorders, are required for commercial aircraft, they are optional for most other air operations, including commuter, charter and tour flights, as well as most vintage airplanewhere digital devices often had to be adapted for mechanical flight control systems.

The design of the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress in Saturday’s collision is nearly 90 years old. The other, a Bell P-63 Kingcobra, was a design used by Russia during World War II.

The NTSB has been arguing for broader mandates for flight data technology for decades as it has evolved to become more powerful and cheaper.

“The NTSB believes that other types of commercial passenger aircraft, such as charter aircraft and sightseeing flights, should be equipped with data, audio and video recording equipment,” the agency said in a statement. text updated on October 28.

The board noted, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has no requirement that aircraft operators install” [the technology]citing privacy, security, costs and other concerns.”

On November 12, 2022, lies on the ground of two planes that crashed during an air show at Dallas Executive Airport.
Debris from two planes that crashed Saturday during an air show at Dallas Executive Airport.LM Otero / AP

But even among the NTSB’s wish list for improved crash data, such vintage aircraft were not singled out.

The NTSB says flight data technology, including cockpit voice recorders, or CVRs, can help investigators reconstruct the events that led to an accident, find a cause, and help pilots and manufacturers avoid deadly mistakes.

Today’s flight data recorder monitors at least 88 key parameters, including altitude, airspeed, and aircraft attitude, data that typically allows the NTSB to build a computer-animated video reconstruction of the flight. according to the agency. A cockpit voice recorder “records the cockpit crew’s voices, as well as other sounds in the cockpit,” says the NTSB website.

Graham said it is common practice for the agency to investigate collisions involving aircraft without black boxes.

“Unfortunately, many of the general aviation accidents we see out there don’t have a flight data recorder or CVR, and often there’s no video, so it’s very difficult for us to determine the likely cause,” he said.

“There are times when we cannot determine the probable cause of an accident,” he added.

Graham asked the public to send any photos or videos they captured of the crash to [email protected]

A preliminary report is expected in four to six weeks, he said. The full investigation will take 12 to 18 months before the final report is released, he said.

The investigation will focus on airworthiness, operations, air traffic control and air performance, Graham said.

NTSB officials analyze radar and video to determine where the collision occurred; novice interviews, the content of which is not released; and getting audio recordings from air traffic control, Graham said.

Officials also plan to obtain pilot training and aircraft maintenance from Commemorative Air Force, the organization behind the show. And they will examine the airframes, or the structures of the planes, and their engines after moving them to a safe location, he said.

Graham said it is too early to determine whether the crash was caused by mechanical error or pilot error.

“We’ll look at everything we can, and we’ll let the evidence lead us to the right conclusion,” he said.

Wings Over Dallas Airshow organizers and Dallas County judge or CEO Clay Jenkins confirmed that six people died in the collision; five were on the B-17G and the other was aboard the P-63.

The show, in its seventh year, showcases the flying skills and technology of World War II, organizers said. The aircraft are owned by the host organization, the Commemorative Air Force, which had a fleet of 180 aircraft before the crash.

The CEO of the nonprofit, Hank Coates, said at a news conference on Saturday that the planes are carefully maintained and that pilots, often experienced former military and commercial airmen, are being vetted.


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