NTSB Identification: WPR11MA454
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, September 16, 2011 in Reno, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 07/15/2013
Aircraft: NORTH AMERICAN/AERO CLASSICS P-51D, registration: N79111
Injuries: 11 Fatal,66 Serious.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The Safety Board's full report is available at http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/reports.html. The Aircraft Accident Report number is NTSB/AAB-12/01.

On September 16, 2011, about 1625 Pacific daylight time, an experimental, single-seat North American P-51D, N79111, collided with the airport ramp in the spectator box seating area following a loss of control during the National Championship Air Races unlimited class gold race at the Reno/Stead Airport (RTS), Reno, Nevada. The airplane was registered to Aero-Trans Corp (dba Leeward Aeronautical Sales), Ocala, Florida, and operated by the commercial pilot as Race 177, The Galloping Ghost, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The pilot and 10 people on the ground sustained fatal injuries, and at least 64 people on the ground were injured (at least 16 of whom were reported to have sustained serious injuries). The airplane sustained substantial damage, fragmenting upon collision with the ramp. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for the local air race flight, which departed RTS about 10 minutes before the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The reduced stiffness of the elevator trim tab system that allowed aerodynamic flutter to occur at racing speeds. The reduced stiffness was a result of deteriorated locknut inserts that allowed the trim tab attachment screws to become loose and to initiate fatigue cracking in one screw sometime before the accident flight. Aerodynamic flutter of the trim tabs resulted in a failure of the left trim tab link assembly, elevator movement, high flight loads, and a loss of control. Contributing to the accident were the undocumented and untested major modifications to the airplane and the pilot’s operation of the airplane in the unique air racing environment without adequate flight testing.

Full narrative available

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