It appears that airshow attendees who want to see a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress thunder overhead or even take a flight in one are going to be disappointed this year. The Federal Aviation Administration is preparing to issue an airworthiness directive that will apparently ground all flyable B-17s due to an issue with wing spars. The Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan, which operates the B-17 “Yankee Lady,” has already grounded its airplane in response to the expected ruling.

A vital structural component of an airplane’s structure, the wing spars are also where the wing attaches to the fuselage. The B-17 has four spars in each wing.

In an email sent out on April 15, the museum said, “The Yankee Air Museum decided to proactively cease flight operations of the B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Yankee Lady.' Recent inspections of other B-17s have discovered wing spar issues. As a result we expect a mandatory Airworthiness Directive to be issued by the FAA in the next few weeks regarding the matter. Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily ceasing our B-17 flight operations and awaiting direction from the FAA regarding necessary inspections and repairs that will be required. It is expected that the B-17 will not fly during the 2023 flying season. Please note that this only affects the B-17.”

A look at the cockpit in "Yankee Lady."

The Yankee Air Museum also offers flights in the North American B-25 Mitchell “Rosie’s Reply,” the Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Hairless Joe," the UH-1H Huey “Greyhound” and a Ford Trimotor.

Starting in 1935, Boeing and other manufacturers produced almost 13,000 B-17s. Currently there are only six airworthy B-17s left, and only three of those were still flying. The other two are “Sentimental Journey,” a Commemorative Air Force (CAF) aircraft based in Arizona and the Ericson Aircraft Collection’s “Ye Olde Pub” in Oregon. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) also has a flyable B-17, “Aluminum Overcast,” but grounded the airplane in April 2021 due to concerns about the spars.

A bombardier's-eye-view in "Yankee Lady."

The CAF’s B-17 “Texas Raider” was destroyed after an inflight collision with a P-63 Kingcobra at the Wings over Dallas airshow on November 12, 2022. The B-17 “Nine-o-Nine,” owned and operated by the Collings Foundation, was destroyed in a crash at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, on October 2, 2019, killing seven of the 13 people aboard. Neither accident was related to the wing spars.