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Fri, May 19, 2023

FAA Publishes B-17 NPRM in Federal Register

45-Day Comment Period Underway

The year 2023 has been unkind to civil and military aviation alike. From unprecedented numbers of accidents and incidents to interloping Chinese spy balloons to full-on failures of integral components of the U.S. National Airspace System, the year of the water rabbit has been an ordeal most will be happy to move beyond.

 

As if discontent to prey merely on contemporary aircraft, fate has seen fit, in 2023, to visit its vicissitudes upon one of history’s most iconic and redoubtable machines—the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

Dubbed Aluminum Overcast, the EAA’s B-17 has been sidelined since damage to one of its wing fittings was observed during a routine preflight check. The finding compelled other B-17 operators—such few as remain—to ground their respective aircraft for purpose of performing wing spar inspections and addressing any problems therewith.

Over the weekend of 15-16 April 2023, Michigan’s Yankee Air Museum announced its B-17, Yankee Lady, would be grounded “out of an abundance of caution” and will likely not fly in 2023.

Speaking to the subject of the B-17’s 21st Century woes, EAA vice president of advocacy and safety Sean Elliott stated: “Even the most robust airframes, such as the B-17 with its legendary durability, need proper care to ensure their safe operation for years to come. We all want to keep ‘em flying and keep ‘em flying safely. We at EAA have had excellent cooperation from the FAA as we jointly review the situation and find the best path forward.”

As if compelled by Mr. Elliott’s sentiments, the FAA has published a Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) germane to the adoption of a new Airworthiness Directive (AD) specific to the B-17.

Pursuant Docket No. FAA-2023-1048; Project Identifier AD-2023-00620-A,T; Amendment 39-22440; AD 2023-10-04 relating to “Airworthiness Directives; Boeing Airplanes,” the FAA sets forth:

The FAA is adopting a new airworthiness directive (AD) for all Boeing Model B-17E, B-17F, and B-17G airplanes. This AD was prompted by a report indicating that the left front spar lower fitting had completely separated at the wing-to-fuselage joint, and the equivalent joint on the right side of the airplane was cracked. This AD requires inspections of the wing terminal-to-spar chord joints, and repair if necessary. The FAA is issuing this AD to address the unsafe condition on these products.”

As the NPRM was published in the U.S. Federal Register on 17 May 2023, the FAA is currently accepting public comments pertaining to such. Parties inclined to weigh in on the matter may do so by:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov . Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Fax: 202-493-2251.
  • Mail: U.S. Department of Transportation, Docket Operations, M-30, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20590.
  • Hand Delivery: Deliver to Mail address above between 09:00. and 17:00 EDT, Monday through Friday, excepting Federal holidays.

Comments pertaining to the B-17 NPRM must be received within 45 days of 17 May 2023.

Further information vis-à-vis the proposed AD may be had by contacting Mr. Eric Schrieber, Aerospace Engineer, Airframe Section, FAA, Airframe Section, West Certification Branch, 3960 Paramount Boulevard, Lakewood, CA 90712-4137; phone 562-627-5348; email Eric.Schrieber@faa.gov.

If codified, the proposed AD will require inspections of the B-17’s wing terminal-to-spar chord joints to detect cracking and corrosion, using one of two options:

  • A magnetic particle inspection of the terminal fittings and an eddy current inspection of the spar chord.
  • An eddy current bolt hole inspection on the steel terminal fittings and the aluminum spar chord.

The AD also requires repairing cracking and corrosion and sending all inspection results (both positive and negative) to the FAA.

What’s more, the FAA considers the proposed AD an interim action. The inspection reports required by subject AD will ostensibly enable the FAA to obtain better insight into the nature, cause, and extent of the discrepancies observed on the affected airplanes. Information deriving of the aforementioned reports may help the FAA evaluate the benefits and risks inherent developing a long-term solution addressing the unsafe condition. Upon determining a final course of action by which to rectify the defects noted on extant B-17 aircraft, the FAA may consider further rulemaking.

FMI: www.faa.gov, The NPRM

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