Historic B-17 in Deadly Connecticut Crash Had Springfield Ties
The WWII era B-17 bomber that crashed in Connecticut this week, killing seven people, had ties to Springfield, Missouri.
The plane that crashed was nicknamed the “Nine-O-Nine,” according to the Associated Press. And although it wasn’t the same aircraft body, it was named after the original “Nine-O-Nine” that was piloted on combat missions by late Springfield WWII veteran Basil Hackleman.
His plane—and the crews that flew in it—became legendary after successfully completing a staggering 140 missions during World War Two, according to the AP.
Hackleman shared his combat experiences with Ozarks Watch Video Magazine’s Dale Moore for an episode that aired on Ozarks Public Television in 2015.
“I flew nine different B-17s on combat missions. ‘Nine-O-Nine’ was the last one we got and we flew it on 14 [missions],” Hackleman said in the interview.
Hackleman’s pilot logbooks show he flew combat missions across the English Channel to Berlin and Frankfurt, deep into Nazi-controlled territory. Sometimes he was tasked with flying missions several days in a row. His enormous B-17 flew with dozens of others in formation on missions.
“You had six in a squadron. Three squadrons flew together and made a group. Three groups flew together and made a wing. Then the wings followed one another. But you usually had 54 airplanes in one formation,” Hackleman said.
Many of those B-17s were shot down by anti-aircraft artillery or German fighter planes, including a B-17 carrying another Ozarks soldier, John Hogan, whose remains were only found a few years ago. You can see Hogan's story here.
According to Basil Hackleman's obituary, he enlisted in the Army on December 13, 1940, about a year
before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. After completing flight training and getting his wings, he was sent to England as a B-17 bomber pilot with the 91st Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force, where he completed 30 combat missions.
The original WWII Boeing named 'Nine-O-Nine'
Most airplanes were nicknamed by the crews that flew them and adorned with unique nose art.
“And nobody could come up with a tricky name that wasn’t already on one. And ‘Nine-O-Nine’ just had a ring to it, so that’s what it is today,” he said.
The Boeing aircraft's serial number ended in 909, as indicated in Hackleman's pilot logbooks.
After the war, Hackelman flew for TWA and as a private pilot. He had about 20,000 hours of logged pilot time by the time he was in his mid-90s.
The original B-17 named “Nine-O-Nine” was scrapped after the war. The B-17 that crashed Wednesday, which went by the same nickname, was owned by The Collings Foundation, which performs air shows across the country.
Hackelman frequented the Collings Foundation airshows, he said in his 2015 interview.
“They’ve been flying ‘Nine-O-Nine’ on a tour of the United States about ten months out of the year. They make about 110 cities a year. And when they’re within about 500 or 600 miles of Springfield, I try to go fly with them,” Hackleman said.
Hackelman died in 2016 in Springfield. The year before he died, he flew in the backseat of a P-51 Mustang—the legendary WWII fighter plane that escorted many B-17s to their targets and back to safety during the last chapter of the war.
“[The P-51] is quite an aircraft. It is so easy to fly after flying a B-17,” he said, likening it to the difference between driving a car with or without power steering.
In a statement posted to its website after the crash, the Collings Foundation said it is suspending its flight operations and its vintage aircraft tour for the remainder of the 2019 season, and that it will issue refunds for customers who had purchased flights.
“The Collings Foundation flight team is fully cooperating with officials to determine the cause of the crash of the B-17 Flying Fortress and will comment further when details become known,” the statement read.
You can watch Hackleman's 2015 interview with Ozarks Public Television by clicking here.