Years ago, B-17s, B-25s, B-24s and P-51 Mustangs (pictured) existed in abundance. Today just a handful of these warbirds remain airworthy — and very few offer rides to the public. The Collings Foundation, a private group out of Stow, Mass., is one of the few organizations that provides these historical aviation experiences but, according to Collings Foundation President Rob Collings, attempts to add more aircraft to the foundation’s fleet is proving to be a difficult process because of waivers that must be obtained from the FAA.
The rides are important revenue generating tools, according to Collings. The pilots and crews are volunteers, so all the money raised from the rides goes into supporting the aircraft.
The FAA’s “Exemptions for Passenger Carrying Operations Conducted for Compensation and Hire in Other Than Standard Category Aircraft” policy states that aircraft must meet the test of being historically significant in the context of aeronautical history.
According to Collings, the foundation’s attempt to add two World War II-era German aircraft, a German Me262 and Fieseler Co. Fi-156 Storch, have been blocked by FAA officials because the airplanes are not U.S. designs and the Me262 is a replica.
Collings counters,“There is no requirement in the FAA’s policy 72 FR 57197 stating that the historical significance be in the context of U.S. aeronautical history.
“The Fi-156 Storch and Me-262 denial by the FAA was arbitrary and contrary to FAA policy, which states ‘An aircraft that was not made by a U.S. manufacturer may be considered for an exemption if the operational and maintenance history is adequately documented’,” he continued.
Collings noted that the Me-262 was the first operational jet and the Storch a prime example of one of the first attempts at a STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) design.
Realizing that aviation did not end with World War II, the foundation also has been trying to add two Vietnam-era aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and a McDonnell Douglas TA-4J, to its line up.
In its denial letter, the FAA states, “While the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and the McDonnell Douglas TA-4J may meet the historically significant test, the FAA must consider that permitting the public to experience flights in an aircraft that while in U.S. military service required the installation of an ejection seat raises a safety concern that has not been adequately addressed. Until the petitioner provides sufficient information on the means by which it ensures an equivalent level of safety, the FAA will not grant an exemption authorizing operations with the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom and the McDonnell Douglas TA-4J. Therefore, the exemption is denied.”
Collings countered that the foundation already has an ejection seat training program that was approved by the FAA and “goes well beyond the standard United States Air Force program. We ensure the total understanding, compliance and competency of the ejection seat protocol and procedures.”
There has been a lot of back and forth with the FAA on the issue. According to Alison Duquette from the FAA Office of Communications, “We are actively reviewing Mr. Collings’ request.”
In the meantime, Collings is asking those in the aviation community let the FAA know how they feel about the waiver status.
“The FAA is taking note of all of the great letters and e-mails that people have been sending in,” he said. “There have been a few Congressional inquiries so far too. It puts the FAA on notice that they must follow their policies, not make them up however they want as they did in the denial. Also, aviation minded folks get more than irritated when ignorant comments like the Me-262 and Fieseler Storch are not ‘historically significant’ — they were the first operational jet and STOL aircraft, but that apparently is not significant!
“It is left to the private sector to carry on this important history, and the Collings Foundation is the only private organization in the world operating many of these types of aircraft,” he continued. “We cannot do it without private contributions and support, as we receive no government funding at all. We need to be able to offer these flight experiences in order to continue our Vietnam Memorial Flight and honor those veterans who have been ignored.”
It can take months for the FAA to evaluation a petition for exemption. Collings said he is aware of that, but he’s heard “we’re working on it” so many times he is dubious.
“Please encourage all of you readers to write the FAA, their senators and congressmen and please copy us on the letter so we can track the grass roots movement,” he said.
He suggested sending comments to FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Director of Flight Standards John Allen at email@example.com. CC your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information: CollingsFoundation.org