No, there have been crashes before at Reno, but the show goes on.And so we witness another last in aviation, I guess this is pretty much the end of airracing, like the way Ramstein was the end of most displays in Western Europe.
The Galloping Ghost was really clean looking; The Ghost arrives 2010.mp4 - YouTube
The YAHOO pic ( no 2 ) in web shows the missing trim tab. Reno air race crash Photos | Reno air race crash Pictures - Yahoo! News
My thoughts go out to the people killed and injured and their families. Similar things have happened in the past in motor racing, see http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a454384.pdfen.wikipedia.org/wiki/1955_Le_Mans_disaster. After this particular crash many people called for motor racing to be banned. This didn't happen. The safety regulations were tightened up and more barriers were installed between the crowds and the action. What will probably happen is that the Reno air course will be moved some distance away from the crowd and turns will not be permitted anywhere that a mechanical failure would result in the trajectory of debris being towards the crowd.No, there have been crashes before at Reno, but the show goes on.
Something like this happened to one of the P-51's (Voodoo) at Reno a while back but fortunately after the G Loc the pilot recovered. Voodoo - 98 NCARThe P-51 had an anti servo tab/trim tab that was designed to prevent a control input from adding too many Gs,If the tab comes apart the elevator could pitch up or down with enough force to tear up the plane. Or Gloc the pilot.
This is to the best of my recollection, written 9-17-11 (one day after the crash)
This year was the first time I had attended the National Championship Air Races at Stead Field in Reno, Nevada – more commonly referred to as the Reno Air Races. I was excited to make it there; having wanted to go for years but for various reasons it never worked out until now. It is quite a unique event, and unlike any other air show it is just about the only place in the world where you can watch pilots and their airplanes compete against each other for all out speed; racing around pylons in tight turns, wingtip to wingtip. It’s the world’s fastest motorsport. The race structure is divided into several categories and classes, from the lower speed Formula One, Biplane, and Sport classes with speeds ranging from 200 – 400 mph range to the Jet and Unlimited classes with speeds exceeding 500 mph. Several heats are arranged within each class: bronze, silver and gold in order to group aircraft with similar qualifying speeds and performance.
I drove to Reno on Thursday night along with two friends from work and we arrived at the gates early on Friday morning excited to see the action. The three of us spent the first half of the day taking advantage of the “Pit Passes” that we had purchased, allowing us to walk down on the flight line in the area where all of the race teams were hard at work putting the final touches on their airplanes in preparation for racing that afternoon. We ran up to the fences each time a race started to watch, as they really went by quite quickly, then would kill the time in between heats by looking closely at the beautiful pieces of machinery that the hard working crews had spent all year preparing for this weekend. As someone who designs and builds airplanes both for a living and in the majority of his free time at home in the garage, I was in heaven. The most extreme examples of aviation craftsmanship to be seen in the world were right here all around me.
The favorites for the crowd, as well as to me personally, are always the vintage WWII Warbirds. Some are relatively stock – P-40 Warhawks just like the one my grandfather flew over the pacific during WWII, F4U Corsairs, F8F Bearcats, and the always famous P-51 Mustang - all restored true to their original glory of the 1940’s. These examples mostly fell into the “Bronze” heats. The “Silver” and “Gold” were reserved for the fastest – the heavily modified examples of WWII’s finest machines with famous monikers like “Rare Bear”, “Strega”, and “The Galloping Ghost”. As an engineer and airplane nut it is fascinating for me to look at the tweaks that each team has made to squeeze a few more knots of top speed out of their raceplanes. One P-51 had contra-rotating propellers. “The Galloping Ghost” team had removed the easily recognizable air scoop from bottom of their P-51 mustang, instead immersing the engine’s radiator in a bath of 50% water, 50% alcohol which rejected the waste heat generated by the overstressed engine by simply boiling away in flight (severely limiting the endurance of the aircraft at power, but saving a significant amount of air drag from the scoop). Nearly all of the airplanes had clipped wings in order to reduce drag. The common theme that was obvious between pit crews is that they were all demanding more power and speed out of these high performance machines than the original designers had ever intended.
Pushing the limit is a common theme in all of the classes, and as such system failures or overheating engines are quite common. Several times throughout the morning I witnessed pilots engaged in a race execute a “Mayday”; pulling out of the running by climbing high above the course, slowing down by trading some of that high kinetic energy for altitude, giving themselves time to asses their situation. The “Mayday” did not mean that catastrophic failure was imminent, only that some issue had developed during the race and the pilot had determined that a departure from the race was the safest option. In each case the pilot was able to safely direct their aircraft back to the runway. Over the years there have been some unfortunate Maydays that have resulted in a crash, some of which claiming the life of the pilot. This seemed to be a well understood risk inherent in the sport, but from talking to those familiar with the safety procedures I learned that every pilot is trained on emergency procedures for each section of the racecourse. These were the well thought out actions that would leave the pilots in the best position for a safe emergency landing should the need arise.
I spent much of the second half of the day sitting in the bleachers and watching the races. The seating area was composed of 9 reserved seating bleacher sections (“A” through “I” running west-east) of 40 rows all facing the north overlooking the runway and the 8 mile loop over the desert that composes the track) There were two rows of higher priced “Box Seats” directly in front of the bleachers, as well as some general admission (non-reserved) bleachers further to the east. I got a ticket high up in the reserved seating section, in the second row from the top. This was the advice of a Reno Air Race spectator veteran who had tried the box seats (closest to the action) and general admission (translate: overcrowded) seats in the past; but not being huddled in the crowds of GA and sitting as high as possible permitted the best view and over all best experience in his opinion, too which I agreed after seeing the other options in person. From up there I witnessed the AT-6 class, Jet class, and the Unlimited Silver race, as well as a few typical air show performances: an F/A-18 demonstration, some aerobatics, the shockwave jet truck, and there was even a U-2 flyby.
The climax of the day was to be the main event at around 4:30pm – the Unlimited Class Gold race. This features the most powerful, fastest, and most outrageous piston-powered flying machines that the world has to offer. Although the Jet class may be a bit faster in top speed, there is no contest in terms of anticipation, edge of your seat adrenalin pumping excitement than the Unlimited Gold. This is what people come to see. From my seat in the 39th row I watched the contending pilots in their aircraft take off from the runway in front, and form up in position abeam the right wing of the pace-plane. The formation slowly circles behind the airport and approaches the first pylon of the race from the south – I needed to look over my right shoulder to see them there. It is the job of the pace-plane pilot to ensure everyone is in a fair position for the start of the race. At which time as he so determines, he will declare over the radio “GENTELMEN, WE HAVE A RACE”. The crowd rises to their feet, and the sounds of cheering thousands are drowned out by the roar from thousands of horsepower pulling their craft to near 500 miles per hour.
This was without a doubt an exhilarating moment. Airplanes that I had only heard about for years were now racing wingtip to wingtip in front of me. The very best, the very fastest. I watched the first lap in its entirety just to take in the moment. After jockeying for position in the first turn, each pilot navigated the course with memorizing speed at altitudes from 200 ft down to just 50 feet above the ground. The most thrilling moment being after the final turn of the course; flying low, fast and straight across the finish pylon from left to right. There was a tail wind blowing from west to east which only added to their relative ground speed down the runway; my head pivoting from side to side to watch each pass. The roar of the engines was amazing, and deafening. This was lap one.
Less than a minute later during lap two, I watched much of the action across show center through a viewfinder taking video as I was eager to take some memory of the experience home with me. “Strega” was leading the pack, I fail to recall who was commanding second place, but “Rare Bear” was holding on to third. Just behind the lead group was “The Galloping Ghost”, screaming along in excess of 490 mph and dispersing the wonted visible vapor trail from her alcohol-evaporative cooling system. This was the end of lap two.
The third lap proceeded initially just like the second one, I did not take note of any position changes over the eight mile course. More quickly than expected, I caught the lead plane rounding the final turn and heading for the finish pylon . I watched the first three ships roar past with blistering speed and enter turn number one for the start of lap 4. It was then that I looked back to west over my left shoulder just in time to see “The Galloping Ghost” about one mile away abruptly depart from the race formation, her nose pitching violently skyward and gaining altitude at a rapid rate. Over the next two or three seconds, while still pointed skywards, she started to roll in bursts to her right – counterclockwise from my point of view – to the south, and in the direction of the crowds. The first thought that went through my mind was “It’s a mayday.. she probably over-heated her engine and will circle around, and hopefully get back on the ground safely down the centerline of one of the runways.”
In recollection of the next three or four seconds, I can only remember three very distinct moments which are quantified by three very distinct thoughts that went through my mind. The first moment went something like this. The rolling action to the right continued, excessively, which was NOT what I had expected to see. The plane continued to pitch “nose up” which once the Ghost rolled 180 degrees to the right and became inverted translates into pointing the nose more and more at the ground. She is now behind the bleachers and continued to roll counterclockwise past 180, still pitching “nose up” while inverted, steepening her downward path and heading towards the bleachers from slightly behind, just over top, at roughly 500 feet of altitude. My brain switched over into survival mode. This is the first time I had experienced this in my life, and its amazing how clear your thoughts get when put in this position. My first thought in this moment was that of an outfielder in a baseball game fielding a pop-up. Just like that awkward moment where you don’t quite have the fly ball dialed in yet, you take one step forward, one step backward just to keep moving and on your toes.. until you commit on a direction to move in order to catch the ball. I thought about running west first, then east, but committed to neither.
The next moment came very quickly, and that was the realization that the direction I ran would not matter. Completely flabbergasted at the amount of distance that “The Galloping Ghost” covered in the nanoseconds in which I was deciding which way to run, I realized that I was going to die. Her nose was pointed directly at me. From less than 1,000 feet away I was looking directly into the spinning propeller affixed to the nose of a 10,000 lb airplane traveling at 500 miles per hour, aimed right for me. I thought it would be here in about two seconds, and there is no way that two seconds worth of running would make any difference.
To my surprise and relief, the third moment came, and that is when I realized that it was no longer going to impact right were I was standing. The Ghost is now at about 300 feet of elevation and continuing to pull “nose up”, passing through complete vertical downward to a slightly northward trajectory at (guessing) an 80 degree angle to the ground. The judgment my brain calculated in that nanosecond was that it was going to hit the direct center of section G (row 20 or so). I am sitting in section H (next one over) about 10 feet from the edge of section G in row 38. My brain tells me that I am going to live, but wonders if I will be injured.
The moment came, and I saw “The Galloping Ghost” impact the ground with ferocity unmatched by anything I had ever witnessed. She hit about 50 to 75 feet in front of where I thought she would, missing the bleachers entirely but hitting the front-most row of the box seats directly in front of section G. I measured it with a google earth, and it appears that the impact was somewhere between 130-150 feet from where I was on the bleachers. (Just for good measure, 150 feet at 500 miles per hour is about one-fifth of one-second of travel.) The sound was incredible; an abrupt and deep resonating thud. Not as loud as I thought it would be, but so powerful. The noise shook my chest and the bleachers that I was on. The airplane did not “pancake in” or belly land as one might expect for an airplane pulling out of a dive. It hit directly, nose first into the ground at a 75 ~ 80 degree angle. A cloud of gray smoke and debris erupt into the air, the majority of which is headed in the north-easterly direction away from the crowds towards the runway. However, I catch several large fragments with my eye coming directly at me.. the moment felt like it lasted forever. Big hunks of stuff lobbed into the air with my name on them. I honestly cannot remember if I was sitting or standing at this time, but I immediately turned to my right and feel to the floor for the best cover I could.. laying on the floorboards of the bleachers between two rows of seats, covering the back of my head with my arms. I hear several bangs and dings around me, the sound of metal fragments impacting the aluminum bleachers. After the noise stops I wait another five or ten seconds and rise to my feet, look for both Dave and Justin who I was sitting with; both of whom appear to be ok. Immediately thereafter I notice that it is raining a mist: some combination of gas, alcohol and water from the explosion. My next thought is to run, thinking any spark will ignite a gigantic fireball centered around me. The direction away from the impact is to the east, which is where the wind is blowing and taking more flammable liquid with it. By the time I process this information, the mist is beginning to subside so I decided to stay put.
After 10 seconds or so the dust cloud settles out and I can see what happened mere feet from my position, and it was awful. A distinct crater had been formed in the ground of the tarmac. I would say ten feet long, five feet wide, and two or three feet deep. It looked like a big bucket loader took a big scoop out of the ground. There were white chairs, as well as blue pipe & drape from the box seats scattered around what looked to be a small bomb blast radius. There were thousands of little bits of metal everywhere. The airplane absolutely disintegrated.. completely obliterated into nothing recognizable. The only items that I could distinguish were what looked to be a half or a third of a Merlin engine block about two hundred yards in front of the impact crater, towards the North-East. At about 100 yards from the impact lay a large twisted heap of metal about the size of a coffee table with something that looked to be red gore that I cannot find the words out of necessity or desire to describe. I assume this was the remains of the cockpit area. About 25 yards behind this was clearly the pilot’s emergency parachute, which was unfurled and lay flat on the ground covering an area equivalent to the footprint of a couch or so. This is all that I could recognize from my perspective other than random bits of twisted metal.. none larger than a foot or two across. No landing gear, no wings, no propellers. It looked like confetti was strewn about the ground.
There were dozens people running around in a state of chaos. There were many running away from the scene, but an equal number running closer to help. There were several who lay motionless on the ground, some sitting on the ground with their head in their hands. There was one man laying right next to the impact crater who clearly no longer had his right leg attached to his body from about the mid-thigh. I watched a woman rip her shirt off which she used to hold pressure on the wound of someone on the ground. Then she was just down there in her bra, running between people on the ground assessing their condition. People were taking the blue pipe & drape cloth and covering bodies on the ground or using it to wrap wounds. Within one minute of this chaos I was impressed with how quickly such an army of EMT personnel had swarmed the site and started to deal with the situation. Large green tarps were put out on the ground and the less critically injured were sat there as more seriously injured were loaded onto roller beds and put into ambulances.
Myself, Dave and Justin are still in the bleachers 5-10 min later, the last thing we wanted to do was to get smashed into a crowd of panicky people trying to flee, and the situation was stable.. safe to be there. There was a woman sitting down behind me who continued to say “all of those people are dead” in an obnoxiously loud, idiotic tone and it made me incredibly angry. Picture the least intelligent person that you know, and then picture that person repeating that statement several times. I thought about turning around and yelling at her.. picked out my words as well, I was to say: “shut the **** up right now, no one wants to hear your idiotic bellowing”, but then I restrained myself and maintained composure. There was a helicopter on scene within a few moments; police or TV News, I cant remember. I noticed Rare Bear come I for a landing on the runway right behind the carnage, but failed to notice any of the other planes that had been in the race land.
Immediately, within 20 seconds or so after the impact the loud speakers were saying “everyone please stay still where you are, EMT professionals are trained on how to handle this situation” which was repeated every now and again along the same lines. After a few minutes the message had changed to “Please leave the area, if you are emergency medical trained please make your way to the front for assistance”. After a few more minutes the message changed to “Please make your way out of the grounds. We understand your emotions at this time but please allow the emergency response team to do their job, and please make your way out of the grounds”. I just stood there the entire time, calmly trying to take it all in and digest what had just happened. I talked with Dave and Justin a bit, we all agreed on our assessment of the final moments and all agreed we were incredibly lucky to still be standing there un-injured. Shortly after this what looked to be national guard personnel started sweeping the bleachers asking everyone to calmly leave the area and we obliged. I considered for a moment or two taking pictures of the scene and eventually came to the decision not too. Justin had gotten a hold of Elliot, Jen, and Eric on the phone, Chris and Jessi we could not get a hold of but from our best assessment of the situation we did not consider it likely for them to have been where the crash occurred. From what we could gather everyone that we knew at the airport was accounted for and safe. We walked down to the east to meet Eric and his wife who were on crew for one of the jets, everyone there was ok and we shortly thereafter left the airport grounds to make our way back to the hotel.
What happened? Why did “The Galloping Ghost” crash into the crowd? From talking to several people and examining some detailed pictures on the internet, the best assessment of the situation is that the elevator trim tabs experienced flutter and failed. I had heard that at race speed on the modified P-51s the trim tab was dialed down to the near full nose down position. An abrupt failure of this trim input would explain the abrupt pitch up. Pictures also show that one of the two trim tabs is clearly ripped off of the elevator. Were one attached and the other gone, it would also explain an asymmetric input along the roll axis explaining the right barrel roll to vertical, straight into the ground. It does not explain, however, the apparent jerkiness of the roll input that seemed to initially occur in short bursts but eventually transitioned into a smooth & slow right hand roll input. Some force definitely maintained a nose up input for the entire duration of the lead up to the crash. Whether this was from the pilot pulling back on the stick or the failure of the trim alone us unclear, and perhaps will never be solved. It may be that the pilot became incapacitated from the G-loading of the initial abrupt pull up at speed, or he might have been fighting the malfunctioning controls the entire way into the ground. It is pretty clear, however, that there was an elevator control circuit failure. There were probably a million links in the chain of events that developed into the exact outcome on Friday.
How am I supposed to react to the situation? As an aviation nut, homebuilder, and pilot who witnessed what may have been the worst accident at an American air show history in 50 years, I cant say that my opinion on anything is changed. I still love airplanes, aviation, and flying, and still consider what is done at Reno to be important. Friday was a terrible day for aviation, but it was a freak accident. 48 years of spectator-safe racing in Reno can prove that. My only hope is that the media will document this tragedy responsibly and not jump to the same outlandish accusations of “all small airplanes are dangerous” that they typically do after an accident. It is my hope that the disturbingly risk-adverse society what we live in today will be able to look at what happened with common sense and determine that the chances of it happening again are just about as likely as someone being struck by lightning, or being in a bus that drives off a cliff. This is a steep order however, and only time will tell.
Friday was the worst thing I have ever seen in my life, and my thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the tragedy.
P-51 Mustang Who? Case # 86 Find out who that P-51 is! ... MustangsMustangs.comLet them know that the Galloping Ghost was an historic raceplane, and that Jimmy was a very experienced and capable pilot.
Let them know that both Jimmy and his mount had been carefully inspected just to be allowed to race, and both were determined to be in fine condition.