Tuesday, August 28, 2012
NTSB: Undocumented Modifications Led to Reno Air Show Crash
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that undocumented and untested major modifications lead to the P-51D airplane crash that killed the pilot and 10 spectators at the 2011 National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev.
According to an NTSB report released Monday, the experimental single seat P-51D —dubbed “The Galloping Ghost”— had deteriorating locknut inserts that lead to “reduced stiffness in the elevator trim system, ultimately led to aerodynamic flutter at racing speed” and resulted in the crash.
NTSB voted unanimously to adopt a conclusion reached by an investigation conducted by a panel of experts aided by photographs and videos from spectators at the Reno air show last year.
Jimmy Leeward, a 74-year old Hollywood stunt pilot, reportedly implemented a number of modifications to the aircraft to increase its speed. According to NTSB, the modifications included shortening of the wings, installation of a boil-off cooling system for the engine and changes to the incidence of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers.
FAA requires pilots to report such changes to a regional flight standards office, but investigators could find no records of the changes being reported with the exception of the boil-off cooling system.
“In Reno, the fine line between observing risk and being impacted by the consequences when something goes wrong was crossed,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “The pilots understood the risks they assumed; the spectators assumed their safety had been assessed and addressed.”
In April, NTSB issued 10 safety recommendations to the Reno Air Racing Association based on the ongoing investigation at the time, including requiring engineering evaluations for aircraft with major modifications; raising the level of safety for spectators and personnel near the racecourse; and improving FAA guidance for air race and course design.