NTSB: Fuel Leak Caused B-17 ‘Liberty Belle’ Fire

Improper repair blamed for loss.

A fuel leak aboard the World War II-era B-17 bomber “Liberty Belle” caused the in-flight fire that destroyed the historic airplane when it made an emergency landing in an Illinois corn field in June 2011, the NTSB said in its final accident report.

According to investigators, the weekend before the crash mechanics identified a fuel leak, which was subsequently repaired. A final inspection on the morning of the accident flight did not reveal any evidence of a leak and the airplane was cleared for flight.

Shortly after takeoff, the flight crew noticed a faint odor of gasoline in the cockpit and a small amount of smoke near the radio room. They immediately initiated a turn back to the departure airport. At the same time, they received a radio call from the pilot of a T-6 Texan chase plane advising there was a fire visible on the left wing. The pilot of the B-17G decided to execute an emergency landing.

Due to mud, fire engines could not reach the airplane, allowing the fire to spread and destroy it. There were seven people on board the airplane when the fire broke out. One sustained minor injuries and the rest were unhurt.

During the post-accident examination, investigators discovered a crack in a fuel tank that was never repaired. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident to be the inadequate repair that allowed the fuel leak to continue, ultimately resulting in the in-flight fire.

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