Nebraska Historical Marker: Midair Collision of P47 Thunderbolt Fighter Planes, 1944

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Nebraska Historical Marker: Midair Collision of P-47 Thunderbolt Fighter Planes, 1944



Main St, Wood Lake, Cherry County, Nebraska

View this marker's location 42.635382, -100.237342

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Marker Text

At 10:45 a.m. on February 5, 1944, 1st Lt. John B. Beatty of Sandusky, OH, and 2d Lt. Earnest W. Fanslau of Mantua, NJ took to the air from the Ainsworth Army Air Field in two P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighter planes for an instrument training flight. Lt. Fanslau's canopy was covered so he could fly solely by instruments, while Lt. Beatty flew nearby as Fanslau's observer. During the flight Lt. Fanslau made an unexpected right turn that Lt. Beatty could not avoid. Rancher Everett Morris did not see the P-47s collide but he heard the impact and observed the planes falling from the sky southeast of his ranch buildings. Lt. Beatty's P-47 went into a flat spin, fell almost straight down, and landed on its back with very little scattering of the wreckage. Lt. Fanslau's P-47 caught fire and exploded in midair, spreading debris over a considerable area. Both pilots were killed. The two crash sites are within half a mile of each other in the Nebraska Sandhills, approximately 15 miles south of Wood Lake near Cherry County's eastern border.

Further Information

The first fatal crash of a fighter plane in Nebraska occurred on February 5, 1944, near the town of Wood Lake, about 13 miles northeast of Ainsworth Army Air Field. At 10:45 AM, 1st Lt. John B. Beatty and 2nd Lt. Earnest W. Fanslau took off from Ainsworth AAF to practice instrument flying, which is when the pilot’s view is obstructed and he can only pilot with the use of his plane’s instruments. To practice flying under such conditions, the pilot would pull down a hood in his cockpit. Lt. Beatty was to be Lt. Fanslau’s guide in the tutorial. About 25 minutes after takeoff, Lt. Beatty told Lt. Fanslau to pull down the hood in his cockpit. Moments later, the two planes collided in air. It is assumed that Lt. Fanslau and Lt. Beatty were flying very close together and that Lt. Fanslau made an unexpected turn. Lt. Beatty’s plane fell almost straight down while Lt. Fanslau’s plane exploded in air. Both pilots died. The crash motivated a change in the rules regarding hooded flights. From then on, observers were instructed to stay farther away from their marks, and modifications were made to make it easier for pilots in hooded planes to bail.


Penry, Jerry. Nebraska’s Fatal Air Crashes of WWII. Milford: Blue Mound Press. 2009.

More information on Jerry Penry’s website:

Marker program

See Nebraska Historical Marker Program for more information.