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A Tragic End of the Texas Raiders

San Angelo LIVE!
San Angelo LIVE!
 2022-11-14

DALLAS, TX — B-17G N7227C was involved in a fatal crash over Dallas Executive Airport (the old Redbird Airport) in south Dallas Saturday. The Commemorative Air Force B-17G was nicknamed the “Texas Raiders” and was based in Conroe. The NTSB said five crew members perished when the old bomber was hit from behind by a vintage P-63 Kingcobra on Saturday, November 12. The pilot of the P-63 was also killed.

Texas Raiders had a long history with the Commemorative Air Force, an organization that grew out of humble beginnings at Rebel Field in Mercedes in the Rio Grande Valley. There, retired military pilots and crop duster pilots, some of the pilots were both, set forth to preserve WWII aviation history by restoring WWII fighter planes.

The original CAF fighters. Four great planes, the F8F Bearcat (top), P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair and P-38 Lightning, sparkle in the Rio Grande Valley sun as their joy-seeking pilots prepare to peel off for low-level strafing runs that may scare even the boll weevils in the cotton fields below. (From an August 12, 1963 article in Sports Illustrated by Dan Jenkins)

There was the P-51, then a Bearcat, and before long, the group of old aviators appointed each of themselves the rank of “Colonel” in the Confederate Air Force and operated a squadron of the WWII piston planes.

B-17G "Texas Raiders" operated by the Gulf Coast Wing of the Commemorative Air Force at the Millington Regional Jetport on May 13, 2017. (Photo by Angelo Bufalino, used with permission)

Years later, in 2001, the organization dropped “Confederate” and renamed themselves the Commemorative Air Force. There was never anything “Confederate” at all about the aviation history restoration project other than whimsical joking. By the turn of the century, times had changed and corporate sponsorships demanded a new image.

the "Tora! Tora! Tora!" re-enactment in a photo from the 1970s on the Gulf Coast Wing's Website at B17TexasRaiders.com.

On that fateful day in Hawaii in 1941, a formation of B-17s was arriving from the States at Oahu at about the same time the first wave of the Japanese air attack. Low on fuel, and with one main gear stuck in the “up” position after being shot up by a Japanese war plane, one brave B-17 pilot landed his plane with one of the main gears up.

The one-wheeled touch-and-go performed for years by the pilots of Texas Raiders until Boeing told the Gulf Coast Wing that structurally this wasn't a good idea. (Photo on B17TexasRaiders.com)

For years, the CAF has performed the “Tora!” show with Texas Raiders approaching the runway with only one main gear down. Today, however, no gear on the B-17 touched the runway. After a safety bulletin from Boeing was published years ago, the CAF touch-and-go has been replaced with a “single main gear up” low approach.

The NTSB said the preliminary investigation will take several weeks with a report scheduled to be published at around the New Year. It will take 12 to 18 months for the final report.

On Saturday, still shaken, Coates told the press that the crash has greatly saddened the organization he leads.

“It’s a close knit family. Everybody knows everybody,” he said. He said the pilots conducting these shows are very experienced.

“Many have been flying for us for 20 or 30 years or longer. This is not their first rodeo,” he said.

General Curtis Lemay (second from right shaking hands), the iconic bomber wing commander from WWII and founder of the Strategic Air Command had advice for naming the restored CAF B-17. Do not name it after an existing B-17. Rather, make the name generic. He also advised the CAF on the somewhat original paint scheme that was revised years later.

The loss of life is tragic. Almost as tragic is the loss of flying history Saturday’s crash caused.

The final 8 B-17s that were still flying met at an airshow in Michigan in 2010. Today, only three remain airworthy.

Back in 2010, Texas Raiders was on tour after a longterm, multi-year restoration project. The Gulf Coast Wing had moved from Ellington Field in Clear Lake to David Wayne Hooks airport in Spring in northwest Houston away from the corrosive salt water air. That year, celebrating the B-17’s 70th year there was a gathering of all still-flying B-17s at the Thunder Over Michigan air show. Including Texas Raiders, there were eight remaining. One of Texas Raiders’ brothers, B-17G Nine-O-Nine, crashed in Connecticut in October 2019. Three more have since been grounded.

Name Don't Mess With Texas Copyright

The author, Joe Hyde, is a B-52G and H instructor pilot and T-38A/C IP with over 6200 flying hours. Growing up in the Houston area, and later as a frequent participant in air shows as a T-shirt vendor while in college with CC Creations and then as an Air Force pilot, he became well acquainted with Houston’s Gulf Coast Wing and Texas Raiders. This piece is a tribute to all of the volunteers and pilots who have given thousands of hours of time and their selfless dedication to keeping history alive and inspiring our youth to pursue aviation and military careers.

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