While they do not give an official cause for the crash, there is one important clue revealed in the report.
A “feather” position is a feature of some propeller-driven planes like the B-17. With two engines at or near feather position, it means the whole right side of the plane was not providing any thrust.
It’s less complicated than it sounds. Picture those big propellers. They’re designed to move air and are angled just right to do that. But if an engine stops working, the propellers catch the wind like a barn door and slow the plane down.
If that happens, the pilot can change the angle of the blades so the air just blows by them. That is called feathering. The most striking thing to come out of the preliminary NTSB report is that the propellers on engine three were found near feathered position, and the propellers on engine four were at feathered position.
“And once the propellers are in that feathered position, they don’t provide any thrust, even if they’re spinning. So the fact that both the number three and number four engines were found with propellers in the feathered position indicates they were getting no thrust out of that side,” says Dr. R. John Hansman/M.I.T. Aeronautics Professor.
We know from the pilot’s radio call that he was having trouble with engine four, but a plane like this should be able to fly down one engine. If two engines were out on the same side at that low altitude, then it totally explains why the plane crashed.
The big question now is whether engine 3threewas also not working, or did the pilot mistakenly feather engine three when he meant to do that to engine four. The pilot and co-pilot both died in the crash, so it will take careful examination of the engines to figure that out.
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Folks at the NTSB say it could be a year or more before they come out with their final report.