Pike's Peak C-47 Accident Report (excerpts)

The following are Ron's hand-typed excerpts from the USAF accident report investigation. Some abbreviation and omissions are made.

1. DATE AND TIME OF ACCIDENT : 14 October 1947, 1808 MST

2. LOCATION OF ACCIDENT : Approximately 4000 feet below the summit of Pikes Peak, CO.

3. AIRCRAFT: C-47A  No. 42-23503

4. HOME STATION AND ORGANIZATION: Des Moines, Iowa, 124th Utility Sqdn; 132nd Fighter Grp. , Iowa NG



           AIRCRAFT: Date of Manufacture- 15 April 1943

                                Total Hours: 1506

          ENGINES:   No. 1 - R-2800-59  Number BU-47449    Total hrs: 824.  Time since o/h  162

                              No 2 - R-2800-59  Number CP-360015   Total hrs: NEW  Time since o/h  165


8. PILOT HISTORY:  Rated pilot 25 May 1942

                                   Total hrs (1st pilot) 2111

                                   Total hrs this type: 859

                                   Instrument time total : 353

                                  Last instrument check (white card) 6 May 1947


10. COPILOT HISTORY:  Rated pilot 30 Aug. 1943

                                           Total hrs  2406 (826 civ.)

                                           Total hrs this type 177

                                           Instrument time total  217

                                          Copilot had 172 hrs actual instrument time and had last check for green card on 30 Aug 1947 at Fargo ND . Check was given in



12. RESULTS TO CREW (report has details, see previous webpage )

13. NARRATION OF EVENTS:   On 14 October 1947 C-47A  No. 42-23503, piloted by Maj. Robert R. Oliver, took off from Hill Field, Utah at 1431 M for a flight to Lowry Field, Co.  At approximately 1659 the copilot contacted Denver approach control on VHF for letdown instructions, estimating his position as 25 miles norch of Denver on the north leg of the Denver radio range. At 1608 the C-47 crashed on Pikes Peak. The pilot, copilot and two passengers received major injuries. Three passengers were killed and/or died from injuries and exposure.


           A. The purpose of the flight was for securing surplus equipment from Hill Field for use by the CAP. The equipment, K-21 cameras, was to be divided between the Des Moines CAP and Minneapolis CAP.

          B. Major Parks, Liaison Officer to the Minneapolis CAP, flew an AT-6 to Des Moines. Major Oliver, Liaison Officer to the Des Moines CAP, borrowed the C-47 from the Iowa NG and the two officers took off on the morning of 14 Oct. for Hill Field.

          C. After loading the cameras, Maj. Oliver filed a VFR flight plan to Lowry Field. The flight plan was to cruise via Green 3, Red 1, and Amber 3 to Denver, estimated time enroute of 2 plus 45, flight priority 3-2, with seven hours fuel available.

         D. The crew chief had serviced the C-47 at Hill and 804 gallons of gas was aboard upon departure from Hill.

         E. VFR weather was forecast and actually existed over the entire route.

         F. No malfunctions nor discrepancies of the C-47 had been noted on the flight from Des Moines to Hill other than the needle-ball being inop.

         G. At 1607 MST, the pilot contacted Sinclair radio and changed his flight plan from VFR to IFR. Denver ATC cleared the C-47 at 15,000ft to the Henderson fanmarker at Denver.

         H. The pilot violated AAF Reg. 60-16, Para. 55, Subsect (2), HQ AAF 28 Aug 1947 by requesting change of flight plan to IFR and encountering IFR conditions with the T/B indicator inop.  This regulation states: "A pilot will not fly an aircraft on an instrument or night flight unless it meets the following requirements : The pilot's instrument panel contains the following in operating conditions: (c) Turn and Bank Indicator"

        I. The pilot violated AAF Reg. 60-16, Para. 43, HQ AAF 28 Aug 1947 by requesting clearance to proceed IFR at 15,000 ft with no oxygen supply aboard the aircraft. This Regulation states: "Any crew member will use oxygen when the flight level is 10,000ft or above under instrument conditions."

        J. At 1659 MST the pilot contacted Denver Approach Control, estimating his position as 25 miles north of Denver and requested let-down instructions. He was cleared to let down on the north leg of the Denver range and report after the loss of each thousand feet of altitude.

        K. For the C-47 to have been 25 miles north of Denver at 1659 (52 minutes after changing flight plan at Sinclair), a ground speed of 196 mph would have been necessary. This is not considering the time involved climbing to 15,000ft. (C-47 isn't that fast)

        L. The winds aloft at 15,000 ft were from 250 at 3 kts, a slight head wind.

       M. The pilot, due to the great amount of precipitation static and oscillation of the compass needle, was attempting to track into Denver range by use of a nose null on the loop position of radio compass.

       N. A moment prior to the crash the copilot noticed trees a few hundred feet below them. The copilot placed the props in high rpm and pushed the throttles full forward. The pilot in an attempt to climb, maneuvered the aircraft into an extremely nose high attitude. The airspeed dropped to 50 mph and the aircraft mushed or stalled into the north-east slope of Pikes Peak.

       O. The pilot, copilot and a passenger riding in the radio operator's seat had their safety belts fastened and although criticically injured, survived the crash.

       P. The crew chief, who was standing between the pilot and copilot and two passengers asleep on the cabin floor in the cargo compartment, received fatal injuries.

      Q. The C-47 was on a heading of appx 200 when it crashed. The inbound heading of the north leg of the Denver range is 168.

      R. Prior to the crash the aircraft had been flying through a snow storm and had accumulated a small amount of rime ice.

      S. There were no check-out sheets in either the pilot's or copilot's Form 5 to indicate that they had been checked out in the C-47. Maj. Parks' Form 5 contained a "familiarization sheet" but it had not been signed by a check pilot.

      T. Denver has a VHF radio range, but no attempt was made to use it.

      U. A B-25 piloted by Lt. Col. Moffett flew the same route from Hill to Lowry appx one hour ahead of the C-47 and although on an IFR clearance, it was not necessary to fly instruments at any time during the flight.

      V. Maps of the area were available.

      W. Radio facility charts and Instrument Letdown Manual were in the aircraft.

      X. The pilot certified that the weight and balance had been filed at Des Moines on 12 July 1947; however, the Form F failed to reveal an entry for that date.

      Y. The 34 cameras were secured by ropes in the cargo compartment.


         A. Weather.

         B. Inability of the pilot to accurately report his actual position to Denver Approach Control.

         C. Poor radio orientation in that the pilot failed to recognize passing Denver while tracking on aural null.

         D. Failure of the pilot to to use all radio equipment available


          a. Although the weather sequences indicate that the weather along the proposed route was actually above VFR minimums, weather must be considered a contributing cause factor for the following reasons:

                 (1) As teh pilot approached Sinclair he could see an overcast ahead of his intended filght path. Instead of requesting the weather at Laramie and Denver from Sinclair radio, the pilot decided to change his flight plan from VFR to IFR. He requested and was granted an IFR clearance at 15,000 ft. This altitude placed the C-47 in the overcast.

                 (2) The pilot was forced to descend through the overcast at Denver. Denver was VFR at the the time reporting 1500 feet and 5 miles in light rain.

          b. Using loop position on radio compass due to the precipitation static, the pilot did not realize that the mnull would and did pass to the tail of the aircraft as it passed over the Denver range. Not realizing that he had passed the cone, it was quite natural for the pilot to assume that the station was still ahead of him. Had the pilot switched to a wing tip null as he approached Denver, he could have definitely identified the station.

          c. It is believed that the marker beacon was inop. as the pilot could not remember it operating on the flight from Des Moines that morning. Radio compass had been used from Des Moines to Hill Field and it is likely that he would have noticed it operating  as there are several fan markers and marker beacons along the airway.

         d. How the pilot could receive the Denver range on loop position as far south as Colo. Springs cannot be explained as the investigating officers flew over the crash area on a clear day when radio reception was excellent. Denver radio range was turned on the radio campass and reception was excellent on "antenna" postion, fair on "compass" position, but there was no reception on "loop" position. The scene of the crash on Pikes Peak is appx 65 miles south of Denver. The pilot should have known that the volume would build as he approached the range station. Actually he would have had to increase the volume several times going away from Denver radio if he were receiving Denver radio at the time of the crash.

        e. The poor pilot technique demonstrated when attempting to climb a moment before the crash probably saved the lives of part of the crew. The copilot recalls the airspeed as 50 mph before crashing. It is believed the pilot actually stalled the aircraft and the center section of the fuselage absorbed the greater part of the impact. If the C-47 had flown into Pikes Peak in a level attitude, it is likely that it would have completely disintegrated.

        f. Denver is equipped with a VHF radio range. The C-47 carried ILS (ARN-5) equipment. Th eradio facility chart lists all VHF ranges and diagrams of range legs, aural and visual, yet no attempt was made to utilize this equipment even though the low flequency radio equipment was practically useless because of static. IT is believed that the pilot was not familiar with the operation and procedure for VHF ranges.

        g. A spot check of several pilots revealed that very few are familiar with VHF radio ranges and several did not know such equipment existed. Since the majority of Air Force aircraft are equipped with ARN-5 equipment, VHF ranges could be used during adverse weather conditions.

        h. Denver Approcach Control issued letdown instruction to the pilot when he reported 25 miles north of Denver on the north leg. This was an assumed position. Since it is a pilot's responsibility to know his position, Denver Approach Control cannot be criticised as the north leg is teh prescribed leg for letdown on the Denver range. However, it is believed that the pliots should identify themselves over the Denver range or the Henderson fan marker before letting down from their initial approach altitude.

        i. The pilot and copilot testified that they encountered snow showers. None of teh reporting stations along the airways reported snow, however, there was snow over the mountains west of Denver. It is possible that the aircraft was actually west of and paralleling Amber 3 airway into Denver. This would have placed the C-47 in the snow shower area and it would have been in line with Pikes Peak.

       j. It is the opinion of the investigating officers that lack of an oxygen supply in the aircraft was not a contributing cause factor to the acciden.t The C-47 cruised at 15,000 ft less than one hour.


       a. That it be suggested to CAA to change the procedure of Denver Approcah Control so that aircraft would be required to report over the Denver range, or the Henderson fan marker at their assigned altitude prior to letting down.

       b. That the "Operation and Procedures" for VHF ranges be published as a special subject by Flying Safety Division, this HQ.

       c. That the pilot and copilot be given instrument checks by a competent check pilot when they recuperate from their injuries.

      d. That this accident be brouht to the attention of all pilots through the Crash & Consequences publication.


        The pilot, having been advised that pilot error was a contributing factor, elected not to make a statement of rebuttal.

James W. Bradford, Capt. USAF

Edgar L. Secrest, Jr,  Capt. USAF

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Last Modified: 1/1/2008