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MODEL 299 CRASH

Posted 6/25/2009 Printable Fact Sheet
 
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Boeing XB-17
The XB-17 (Model 299) crashed during its test flight at Wright Field on Oct. 30, 1935. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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15 November 1935

"Cause of crash of the Boeing bomber"

The findings of the Board of Officers convened at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to investigate the cause of the crash on October 30, 1935, of the Boeing Aircraft Company Bombardment plane, model 299, were to the effect that the accident was not due to structural failure, or to the malfunctioning or failure of any of the four engines, the airplane control surfaces or the automatic pilot, but to the locked condition of the rudder and elevator surface controls (primarily the latter), which made it impossible for the pilot to control the airplane.

These findings were based on the locked condition of the controls after the crash; the testimony of Lieut. Donald Putt, co-pilot; of Mr. Leslie R. Tower, Boeing Aircraft Company test pilot, as to the behavior of the airplane in the air, and the testimony of eyewitnesses as to the behavior of the airplane on take off and flight.

From the evidence submitted the Board reached the conclusion that the elevator was locked in the first hole of the quadrant on the "up elevator" side when the airplane took off, for had the elevator been in either of the "down elevator" holes on the quadrant or the extreme "up elevator" hole, it would have been impossible for the airplane to be taken off in the former case, and in the latter case the pilot could not have gotten into the seat without first releasing the controls. With the elevator in this position they are inclined at an angle of 12.5 degrees.

During the take-off run the airplane could not assume an angle of attack greater than the landing angle of the airplane (7.5 degrees) plus the angle of incidence of the monoplane wing to the fuselage (3 degrees) or a total angle of 10.5 degrees. This would not be particularly noticeable to the pilot during the ground run.

However, as soon as the airplane left the ground, which several witnesses testified was in a tail low attitude, the elevators, with increasing power, varying as the square of the air speed (approximately 74 miles per hour at take-off), tended constantly to increase the angle of attack, until the stall was reached. The trim tab on the elevator also tended to aggravate this extreme tail heavy position, since with locked elevators, and the pilot pushing forward on the control column, the trim tabs were up, and themselves acted as small elevators on the fixed elevator proper.

Due to the size of the airplane and the inherent design of the control system, it is improbable that a pilot, taking off under these conditions, would discover that the controls were locked until too late to prevent a crash.

The locked condition of the controls was due either to the possibility that no effort was made to unlock the controls prior to take-off, and as a result the controls were fully locked; the possibility that the pilot only partially depressed the locking handle and as a result the locking pin was only partially withdrawn from its hole in the face of the locking quadrant; or the possibility that the locking handle was fully depressed prior to take-off and, due to the malfunctioning of the system, did not fully disengage the locking pin. There is no evidence to show that the system had ever malfunctioned, but due to the inherent design it must be considered a possibility.

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