NTSB Releases Docket for Fatal Wings Over Dallas Airshow Midair

The trove of details includes more than 500 pages of witness interviews.

NTSB investigators at the scene of the midair collision between a Boeing B-17G and Bell P-63F at the Wings Over Dallas WWII airsho​w ​at the Dallas Executive Airport (KRBD) in November 2022. [Courtesy: National Transportation Safety Board]

"Knock it off! Knock it off! Roll the trucks! Roll the trucks!"

These words from the transcript of audio recordings of the air boss and airshow participant testimony gathered by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have shed new light on the fatal midair collision of a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, known as Texas Raiders, and a Bell P-63F Kingcobra at the Wings Over Dallas airshow on November 12, 2022. 

All five aboard the B-17 and the pilot of the P-63 were killed when the fighter aircraft sliced into the bomber, severing the tail.

Both aircraft were registered to the American Airpower Heritage Museum and part of the Dallas-based Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and showing historical aircraft. The pilots were CAF volunteers.

NTSB's docket contains more than 1,900 pages of "factual information, including reports on operations and human performance factors, airplane performance, airworthiness, and laboratory examinations." This information is now available to the public, although the investigation is still ongoing.

The midair collision occurred in front of thousands and was captured on video and in photographs. The NTSB has included much of this information in the docket, along with transcripts of recordings and interviews with CAF volunteer pilots, many of whom were flying that day and witnessed the collision from the air. 

The docket provides insight into the machinations that it takes to put on an airshow. It is documented that the flying is "scripted," and great care is usually taken to keep separation from all aircraft.

Video of the event at Dallas Executive Airport (KRBD) shows the aircraft were flying on a northerly heading parallel to Runway 31 as part of the parade of planes. The P-63F was third in a three-ship formation of fighters, and the B-17G was lead of a five-ship formation of bombers.

Among the photos compiled by NTSB is one taken from a ground camera that shows the B-17 and P-63 flying toward the camera. The aircraft appear to be at the same altitude, and the P-63 is in a left bank with its belly facing the bomber. This would make it impossible for the pilot of the P-63 to see the larger aircraft.

According to the NTSB preliminary investigation, there were two show lines—one 500 feet from the audience, the other 1,000 feet away. Show lines are established at airshows to keep aircraft from flying directly over the crowd.

According to CAF pilots interviewed, normal procedure is for the pursuit aircraft—also known as fighters—to be flying several hundred feet above the bombers "flying cover." The bombers fly at a lower altitude in a trail of about a quarter of a mile behind each other.

In more than 500 pages of interview transcripts, pilots told investigators that they were encouraged to voice concerns if they saw a practice or action that they believed to be too risky in the air. The clear message was that as the flying was scripted, meaning the pilots knew the altitudes and positions they were to be flying before they left the ground. During the pre-show briefing, pilots took extensive notes and referred to them during flight.

It is the duty of the air boss to make sure there are no altitude or air space conflicts.

The air boss for Wings Over Dallas was Russell Royce. According to the docket, Royce has worked as an air boss for approximately 20 years.

When asked how he intended to ensure separation as the fighters crossed the flight path of the bombers to get on the 500-foot line as you directed, Royce told NTSB investigators, “They shouldn’t have been there. We do it all the time…It’s never a problem. I never saw the P-63 roll in.”

The NTSB preliminary accident report noted there was no altitude deconfliction briefed before the flight or while the airplanes were in the air. Altitude deconfliction procedures are established in the event pilots find themselves at an improper altitude during the flight.

For those who have ever wondered about how much coordination is required to execute an airshow, the docket is very educational. Hundreds have to work together under the guidance of the air boss.


According to the recorded audio of the airshow radio transmissions, Royce directed both the fighters and bombers to maneuver southwest of the runway before returning to the flying display area, which was the designated performance area. ADS-B data shows the aircraft complied.

Royce then directed the fighter formation to transition to a trail formation and fly in front of the bombers, then proceed near the 500-foot show line.

The bombers were directed to fly the 1,000-foot show line. In the final transmission before the moment of impact, Royce can be heard saying, “Nice job, fighters. Come on through. Fighters will be a big pullup and to the right.”

The accident happened around 1:22 p.m. in front of thousands of spectators. The collision was captured on multiple smartphones from multiple angles, and these videos and still photos were quickly posted to social media. The images show the P-63F in pieces, raining down on the grassy area on airport property south of the approach end of Runway 31 and the B-17G forward section tumbling forward in a ball of fire. Captured stills of the accident appear to show the copilot of the B-17 holding on to the roof as the forward section of the aircraft cartwheels to the ground.

No injuries were reported on the ground.

Several pilots described witnessing the impact from the air. Some of the most disturbing testimony comes from the crew aboard the B-24 that was flying behind the B-17. As noted by the NTSB investigator conducting the interview, the B-24 crew had a "bird's-eye view" of the collision and the separation of the B-17 tail and subsequent fireball and crash of the forward section.

The pilots noted that after witnessing the event they were rattled and took special care to focus on the procedures that had been briefed for emergency operations and the checklists for their respective airplanes. There was discussion about appropriate airports to divert to, keeping in mind the needs of the heavier aircraft that require longer runways than most GA trainers.

The docket, while extensive, does not offer any conclusions about "how or why the crash happened." The NTSB will issue a final report at a later date that "will include analysis, findings, recommendations, and probable cause determinations related to the accident."

The public docket for this investigation is available here.  Additional material may be added to the docket as it becomes available. NTSB's preliminary report, along with a link to photos and other information, may be found here

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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