Boeing B-17E  41-9225

Loch Rangag, Thurso, Highland

 
     
 
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Aircraft Type Photo

 

BELOW: A USAF Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress in flight.

 

A Boeing B-17E in flight

 

Photo: Courtesy, National Museum of the US Air Force.

 

 

 

 

Aircraft Type and Background

 

RAF Boeing B-17E FL455 Z9-A Flying Fortress / 41-9225

 

(Click hyperlink above for RAF history of this type)

 

(While with the USAF, this aircraft bore the serial number 41-9225. When transferred to the RAF, however, the aircraft was assigned the RAF code FL455 Z9-A.)

 

 

Aircraft Type Nickname: "Flying Fortress"; "Fort", and others.

 

The Boeing B-17 was a four-engine heavy bomber, equipped initially with four 750hp Pratt and Whitney Hornet engines. However, later builds were fitted with 1200hp Wright Cyclone R1280-97 radial piston engines. Later production models were modified substantially by extending the fuselage further to the rear to incorporate a tail gun position.

 

The aircraft had a maximum speed of just over 483km/h (300mph) and a cruising speed of 257km/h (160mph). Its maximum range (ferry) was 5,472km (3,400 miles).

 

 

 

 

 

Aircraft Accident Details

 

(This particular B-17E was attached to RAF 519 Squadron Meteorological Flight operating from RAF Wick.)

 

Fortress Z9-A of 519 Sqn took off from Wick at 0930 on 1 Feb 1945, for a routine met reconnaissance RECIPE sortie - a straight line track north from Wick to 69N 02W and return. The aircraft encountered snow and ice about 4 hours north of Wick on the return leg, and these persisted for the remainder of the flight. When Z9-A approached Wick at about 2000 hours, the weather was atrocious, low cloud, frequent shower showers and a strong gusty wind.

 

The aircraft was heard over the airfield and given a course to fly, but contact was then lost. At 2040 the Fortress flew into a gently sloping hill, probably Cnocan Ruar, at 700 ft amsl. Of the crew, four were killed outright, two died later of their injuries but the two pilots, plus another pilot being trained, survived.

 

Details of the accident report suggest there was little doubt that this was pilot error, although an attempt was made to divert the blame to the MAO for having given an incorrect QFE. This ignores the fact the MAO would not have been able to provide a QFE - it should have been requested it from ATC, or ATC should have offered it voluntarily - especially in the poor conditions, but neither course of action was taken.

 

Many years later Dr Michael Diprose of Sheffield University salavaged and rebuilt one of the engines, and he was instrumental in erecting a memorial, not only to those killed in the accident, but all 519 Squadron aircrew who never returned to base. The memorial was dedicated on 29 August 1992, and sits on the west side of the A9 near a spot known as Halsary; it is marked on the map at 318500 949500.

 

 


 

 

Fortress Met flights late 1944 and into 1945

 

The Fortresses were also equipped with Gee, LORAN and an Air Position Indicator (API) to assist with navigation over the ocean.

 

Eric Jones was a navigator with 519 Sqn and describes a typical Met flight:

 

“Met flights were flown at a set pressure altitude. The outbound and return legs were flown at 950 millibars, or around 1,500 to 1,800ft, with a 250 nautical mile top leg at the terminal position flown at 500 millibars. The box climb prior to the top leg actually went up to 400mb – about 23,000ft (7,620m) – with a descent along the leg to 500 millibars, followed by a box descent at the end of that leg for the homeward trip. This requirement often meant flying in cloud for long periods. While within range of Gee this was no problem. LORAN was also a godsend under these conditions but signal reception was often less than ideal. During much of our time on 519, the LORAN signal from Iceland was weak or could not be received. I believe the main aerial was damaged by storms and it was using a temporary aerial. The other transmitters, based in the UK, gave a narrow angle of intercept of their position lines, reducing the accuracy for the navigator. Skywaves could be difficult to measure due to fading or rising up on the horizontal time base, but after flying in cloud or between layers for perhaps hours, it was the best, and sometimes the only available navigation aid.

 

"We were encouraged to maintain radio silence as much as possible, except when transmitting Met information to base. On the twins - Venturas and Hudsons - we usually allowed ourselves the luxury of calling for a bearing from the DF station at Kirkwall in the Orkneys soon after we set course for home, as that was virtually the track we had to achieve. We may have done the same on the B-17 but it was far less important as we had LORAN, which was often far from perfect, and Gee, which was very good, or the last, say, 100 miles, depending on altitude, to straighten us up if we were off track.”

 

 

[Above details courtesy Alan Thomson.]


 

 

 

 

Aircraft Crew Casualties

 

Three pilots survived this accident, but six crew members died.

 

The four who died in the crash were:

 

Please click on the hyperlinked names above for further details at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's website.

 

 

The two who died later of their injuries were:

  • E. A. Wood, RAF.

  • D. A. Pressley, RAF.

 

The three who survived were:

 

1st Pilot Flt Lt F. K. Humphries, RAAF;

2nd Pilot F/O G. H. Pullan;

3rd Pilot F/O T.G. Wrigley

 


 

Memorial Photos

 

BELOW: Memorial on A9 (Dunbeath to Thurso road) commemorating the airmen who lost their lives when their B-17 crashed near Loch Rangag.

 

Memorial on A9 near Thurso to airmen who died in crash near Loch Rangag

 

Photo: © 2010 Steven Spink

 


 

BELOW: Closer view of plaque on memorial cairn.

 

Closer view of plaque on memorial cairn

 

Photo: © 2010 Steven Spink

 


 

BELOW: The direction indicator on top of the memorial showing route to crash site.

 

The direction indicator showing route to crash site

 

Photo: © 2010 Steven Spink

 


 

BELOW: Top-down view of route indicator.

 

Top-down view of route indicator

 

Photo: © 2010 Steven Spink

 


 

BELOW: Closer view of route on indicator

 

The starting point is at the memorial cairn near Halsary (moor) on the A9. The aircraft crashed between Loch Ruard and Loch Rangag.

 

closer view of route on indicator

 

Photo: © 2010 Steven Spink

 

 

CAR PARKING: See advisory note in top right hand Panel under Parking for recommended parking location.

 

 

 

 

 

Crash Site Photos

 

 

At the moment, there are no crash site photos for this aircraft, but see this site for photos.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Crash Date / Site

 

 

Accident Date: 1 Feb 1945

 

Accident Site:

Near Loch Rangag (132m)

 

Region: Highland

 

Nearest town or village:

Dunbeath or Thurso

 

Nearest large town or city:

Wick (NE) or Thurso (N)

 

OS Grid Ref. N/A

 

GPS Ref: N/A

 

Present Condition: Substantial wreckage slowly sinking into the peat bog; engines and undercarriage, panels etc.

 

Memorial on A9 on road to Thurso.

 

Parking: It is a very hard slog to get to the site and would-be visitors would be advised to park their vehicles near to Rangag Farm rather than the layby where the memorial plaque is placed.

 

 

(Present Condition and Parking details kindly provided by Brian McCudden)

 

 

 

Aircraft Details

 

 

Registration or Serial: 41-9225 / FL455 Z9-A

 

Operator: RAF (519 Squadron Meteorological Flight)

 

Operating Station: RAF Wick

 

Station Location: Wick, Highland, Scotland.

 

Current Airport Status: Operational Civil Airport

 

Current Airport Name: Wick Airport

 

 

 

 

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