The World War II era B-17 aircraft that crashed at Bradley International Airport Wednesday morning was considered a "warbird" - restored vintage military aircraft operated mostly by civilian organizations for historic purposes.
“There are a handful, under a dozen airworthy B-17s out there,” said Bob Stangerone of the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, “and then there are several dozen in storage and on static display.”
Stangerone said none of these existing B-17s ever saw combat duty.
Jeremy Kinney is a curator at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. He said the four-engine bomber is a ubiquitous symbol of World War II.
“Well, you know the B-17 is an iconic weapon,” said Kinney. "The vision of the gunners at their position, the bombardiers getting ready to drop the bombs, the pilots, they are flying through the exploding flack through the air. That's one of the most poignant, recurring images when we think of the air war during World War II.”
The B-17 was developed in the 1930s and is the third most produced bomber of all time. Despite today's crash, the B-17 had a reputation as a hardy aircraft during the war.
“The B-17s were known for their reliability and ruggedness. They were known for bringing crews home with heavily battle-damaged aircraft,” said Kinney.
But since the end of World War II, the National Transportation Safety Board has investigated 13 crashes involving B-17s, the latest being a 2011 crash in Illinois. In that case, everyone on board survived.