The Bowling Green man flying a restored, World War I-era de Havilland DH-4 biplane that crashed at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport on Saturday walked away from the wreckage mostly unscathed, which the pilot called a tribute to the aircraft’s grit.
“It’s a testimony to how well built this plane is,” said Dorian Walker, who said he had no serious injuries after the wooden plane crashed in a field at the airport Saturday morning. The DH-4 was the only original plane of its kind still flying, Walker said.
“It’s the first American-built warplane,” Walker said of the plane’s model, which was adapted from the British DH-4 after America entered WWI in 1917 with no combat-worthy aircraft at the time, according to the National Air and Space Museum.
Dubbed the “Liberty Plane,” it was in use by several bomber squadrons, and in the post-war period, became the principal aircraft used by the U.S. government when airmail service began in 1918. To this day, it’s remembered as the great-grandfather of the country’s warplanes, Walker said.
“It’s important to the American fabric of today,” Walker said.
Walker, along with the group that helped restore the aircraft – Friends of Vintage Flight – hoped to use it as an educational tool. It was scheduled to tour several U.S. Air Force bases and in France before the coronavirus pandemic forced those events to be postponed, Walker said.
“We’re not exactly sure what happened,” Walker said. As he made a loop above the airport, Walker said he began to notice control issues with the plane. He managed to return it to the airport before the crash landing, which wasn’t far from where he took off.
Dr. Darrell Tade, a major with the Civil Air Patrol, witnessed the crash and said he examined Walker after the crash, finding only minor injuries. While the takeoff seemed like a normal one, Tade said he noticed the left wing dip down on the landing.
“The pilot controlled it as well as anyone could have,” Tade said, crediting Walker for returning to the airport before the crash.
This is the second crash of a historic plane at the local airport in less than three years. In August 2017, a 1917-vintage Curtiss JN-4 biplane known as the Jenny crash landed at CrossWinds Golf Course next to the airport. Although that plane was owned by Walker, it was piloted by someone else and Walker was not involved in the incident.
The Jenny was ultimately repaired, but the fate of the DH-4 is uncertain, Walker said.
“We’ve got to investigate with the (National Transportation Safety Board),” he said.
Walker has 350 hours of flight experience flying older biplanes, he said. A team of technicians invested about 10,000 hours in the aircraft’s restoration.
“I think their spirit brought me down OK,” Walker said.