National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
RENO, NV – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provided an investigative update today, on last year's crash of a highly modified P-51D airplane at the National Championship Air Races in Reno Nevada. On September 16, 2011, the pilot of the Galloping Ghost experienced an upset while turning between pylons 8 and 9 on the race course. The airplane crashed on the ramp in the box seat spectator area. The pilot and 10 spectators were killed and more than 60 others were injured.
In addition to the investigative update, NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman announced that the agency was issuing a total of seven safety recommendations to make the National Championship Air Races a safer event for pilots and spectators alike.
"We are not here to put a stop to air racing," said Chairman Hersman. "We are here to make it safer."
The safety recommendations address race course design and layout, pre-race technical inspections, aircraft modifications and airworthiness, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidance on air racing, the effects of g-forces on pilots, and ramp safety issues. They were issued to the FAA, the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA), and the National Air-Racing Group Unlimited Division.
While the investigation is ongoing, Chairman Hersman provided a detailed interim update that showed that the accident sequence initiated with an upset that preceded the separation of the left elevator trim tab by approximately 6 seconds.
One key safety area highlighted during the investigation is the extensive modifications made to airplanes that race in the unlimited class and the lack of documentation and inspection associated with those modifications. On the Galloping Ghost, modifications included reducing the wing span from about 37 feet to about 29 feet, and significant changes to the flight controls – all designed to increase speed and enhance racing performance.
"Our investigation revealed that this pilot, in this airplane, had never flown at this speed, on this course," said Chairman Hersman. "We are issuing a safety recommendation to ensure that pilots and their modified airplanes are put through their paces prior to race day."
Related findings from telemetry data showed that during the upset; the airplane exceeded the accelerometer's 9-G limit. While the investigation into g-forces and g-tolerance is ongoing, the photographic and telemetry evidence indicates that both the airplane and pilot experienced an unanticipated, rapid onset of high g-forces and appears to support pilot incapacitation.
The fatalities and injuries in this accident draw attention to the course design and layout. The unlimited race course is designed for an average ground speed of 500 miles per hour. As pilots make the final turn toward the home pylon, the trajectory of the airplane is in the direction of the spectators in the box seats and grandstands. The NTSB has recommended that RARA review the current course and consider changes to lessen the exposure to spectators.
To access images in the photo gallery, click the following link: http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/2012/air_show/photos.html
To view the safety recommendations, click on the following link:
Preliminary Report of the September 16, 2011 accident in Reno, NV http://www.ntsb.gov/aviationquery/brief.aspx?ev_id=20110917X22412&key=1
Accident Press Briefings:
Investigative Update of Reno Air Race Accident, October 21, 2011, http://www.ntsb.gov/news/2011/111021.html
Press Releases on Air Race and Air Show Safety Hearing, http://www.ntsb.gov/news/2012/120105.html
Air Race and Air Show Safety Hearing, http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/2012/air_show/index.html
Bio for Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman, http://www.ntsb.gov/about/bio_hersman.html
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.