The B-24 bomber (serial number 44-48800) shown in the opening of the video crashed before it was accepted by the Air Corps. At 12:27 on the afternoon of 19 August, 1944, B-24J serial # 44-8800 took off from Willow Run Airport on a certification flight. The plane was the 300th plane in the lot and as such was given extra testing to determine the acceptance of the next 300 plane lot. It was the 5,549th Ford built B-24 to come off the assembly line. The plane had not been turned over to the Army Air Forces and was thus the property of Ford Motor Co. It was on its sixth test flight, a high altitude bomb drop, when it crashed in clear weather at approximately 3:40 pm on the farm of Jerry King, about 2 miles ESE of Imlay City, MI. All aboard the plane perished in the accident. The cause of the crash was later determined to be structural failure of the elevator control surfaces which were found miles away from the crash site in a farm field. This problem was just beginning to become apparent in this model plane and not uncommon during WWII when design changes had to be made on the fly. Indeed, a year earlier on 3 August, 1943, a B-24E crashed near Pueblo, CO under extremely similar circumstances. Recommendations were made to alter the construction to allow for easy visual inspection of these components during pre-flight. It was further determined not exceed 260 mph dive speeds during test dives, the previous allowable speed was 300 mph.
According to the official accident Report:
1. In accordance with the requirements of existing contracts and Materiel Command, Wright Field, letter prh:60-14, dated 6 June 1944, by Major R. M. Sinnen, this airplane, 44-8800, was selected as representative of a production lot of airplanes manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, Willow Run, Ypsilanti, Michigan, and was on its 6th Flight for bomb dropping tests at altitude in operational check of bomb bay doors at all allowable speeds. The airplane left Willow Run at 12:27 and no further radio contact was made. Weather was reported as C.A.V.U. throughout this area. The flight schedule provided for dropping of bombs at altitude over the assigned area along the shore of Lake Huron. Upon completion of this part of the flight, the airplane descends to about 12,000 feet, at which time the airplane is put into a power dive testing the bomb bay door operation at all allowable speeds. It is believed this procedure was followed, although no information was obtained to ascertain this. It is believed that bomb bay door operation was tried and a "squawk" was found, necessitating regaining altitude for a repetition of the test.
2. The first actual witness to the flight of the plane immediately prior to the crash, located the ship in an area south of the scene of the accident, climbing from a low altitude and proceeding in a northeasterly direction. The ship was then observed by other witnesses to proceed in a northerly direction then turning to the west followed by a turn to a southeasterly course. At this time the ship was reported to be several miles north of the location of the crash at an estimated altitude of 7,000 to 10,000 feet. It was then observed to proceed in a southeasterly direction in a power dive. Shortly after the power dive was started, witnesses observed pieces of what appeared to be paper fall from the airplane. The airplane continued in this power dive at a high rate of speed with all four engines running. Then it was observed to go into a steeper dive and then suddenly into a vertical dive at an altitude of approximately 300 or 400 feet.
3. Judging from the impact, the airplane struck at a terrific speed. The airplane exploded on impact, scattering fragments over a wide area. Evidence indicated that at the time of the crash one Flight Engineer was in the Bombardier's compartment where he could operate the bomb bay doors. Apparently, the other Flight Engineer was in the or near the Radio compartment where he could inspect the operation of the doors. The Pilot and Co-pilot in their respective places.
4. The pieces which appeared to be paper that fell from the airplane in flight were found to be elevator trim tabs, part of the elevator, bomb bay doors and parts of the nose turret. These pieces were found in the adjacent farms on the course of the airplane, about a mile to a mile and half from the scene of the accident.
5. It is the opinion of the Board that the Pilot attempted to use the elevator trim tabs to recover from the test dive for bomb bay door operation, at which time the elevator tabs failed, causing the structural failure of the elevator which made it impossible for the Pilot to recover from the dive. As the dive continued, speed of the airplane increased, causing the failure of the bomb bay doors and nose turret.
6. There is a remote possibility that bomb bay doors were torn off in the test operation which struck the elevator, causing further structural damage. The failure of the elevators resulted in the Pilot losing complete control of the airplane, with the result that the airplane assumed an ever increasing diving angle
On 19 August 1944 approximately 1540, Airplane B-24J #44-8800 crashed two miles north and one and one-half miles east of Almont, Michigan. The ship was piloted by Lt. John K. Howmiller, AC, Assistant AAF Resident Representative and FLight Engineering Officer, stationed at the Ford Motor Company Willow Run Bomber Plant, and co-piloted by Capt. Thomas W. Vaughn, AC, Assistant AAF Resident Representative and Assistant Operations Officer, stationed at Ford Motor Company Willow Run Bomber Plant. Two Ford Motor Company employees, Flight Engineers C.R. Wonack and Harvey D. Jenkins, completed the crew of the ship. All members of the crew were instantly killed. The Subject airplane was on a routine Bomb Dropping Test prior to Army Air Forces acceptance and was still the property of the Ford Motor Company. Preliminary investigation was requested by the District Intelligence Officer, Central Procurement District. The Detroit office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was notified upon receipt of the crash by the District Intelligence Officer.
1. On 19 August 1944 this Agent surveyed the scene of the accident which was located on Section 11 of the Almont Township, known as the Jerry King Farm. The property on which the plane crashed is owned by Harry L. Armstrong, 201 Lapeer Street, Lake Orion, Michigan. It appeared from the scene of the accident that the airplane approached from the northwest, traveling in a southeasterly direction. (Exhibit A) As it was over the above-mentioned land it made an almost vertical dive, striking the ground head-on. The land is partially wooded pasture land and the position of branches broken from the trees indicate that the final dive was almost straight down. The plane apparently exploded upon contact with the ground and the force of the impact and the explosion scattered parts of it over a 300 yard square area. All four engines of the ship were buried several feet in the ground. The ship was completely demolished (Exhibit B). Parts if the fuel tanks, engine cowlings, selector valves, and other parts were found from 200 to 300 yards from the actual crash, apparently having been blown there the explosion.
2. The destruction of the plane was such that very little could be ascertained from an examination of the scattered wreckage. Imprints on the ground made it appear that the leading edge of the left wing probably struck the ground first with the nose section, all four engines and the right wing striking immediately thereafter.
The plane crashed at the height of production, the most produced aircraft of WWII, hunderds of changes were made during the production of the aircraft, changes were made as a result of the accident up through the end of its production. In the first year alone, 1941, there were 575 changes required. The total number of B-24s built at Willow Run was 8,685. At its peak, August 1944, Willow Run produced 428 B-24s per month. In the beginning in December 1941, a total of 107 bombers had been offered to the Army Air Corps, but only 56 were acceptable. Part of the problem was that, as in the auto industry, the plant was using hard steel dies instead of the softer dies more conducive to the multiple changes demanded by the aircraft industry. The B-24 contained 100,000 parts, as opposed to the 15,000 needed in a 1940 automobile. Test flying the newly built planes and putting them through their paces required alot of skill, unfortunetly this one plane did not pass the test. I've read the when many of the Ford built planes arrived at other bases they were grounded due to defects and poor quality parts. Rework depots were set up and the planes were majorly modified before heading into combat areas. It was a great plane, but it did have its problems. I located the crash site back in 2009. It is located on a farm in Almont Michigan. Very little remains of the plane, but I still found some parts! For more on the crash site investigation see link: http://www.mi-aviationarchaeology.com/index.php?p=1_3_Almont-B-24 Site investigated by myself (dave Trojan) and Jeff Benya (who runs the web site)