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Aviation Accident

NTSB Identification: LAX99FA311
The docket is stored in the Docket Management System (DMS). Please contact Records Management Division
Accident occurred Saturday, September 18, 1999 in RENO, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/09/2001
Aircraft: No American/Rogers B L P-51R, registration: N57LR
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The empennage assembly of the experimental race plane separated and the aircraft crashed during the first lap of an unlimited class heat race at the Reno National Championship Air Races. The wreckage was spread over approximately a 0.5-mile path. The first item located in the wreckage path was the lower half-span of the rudder control. Approximately 1/8 mile further along the debris path was a wreckage field about 500 feet long containing the remainder of the empennage (including the rudder trim tab), except the rudder upper half-span. The rudder upper half-span, including the mass balance, was located about 1,900 feet to the right of the debris field. When laid together, the rudder exhibited a shredded appearance through the midspan forward of the rudder trim tab location. Review of a spectator video recording taken from the rear in the seconds before the accident showed that, while the other parts of the aircraft were visible, the rudder and vertical stabilizer were not visible. The video technician opined that the disappearance of the vertical fin and rudder might have been the result of 'video smearing' if the rudder was moving rapidly and the video image recorder rate could not keep up with it. The precipitating event was not determined during extensive reconstruction and analysis of the empennage.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The onset of a flutter event and the resultant separation of the rudder and empennage from the aircraft. The precipitating cause for the flutter could not be determined.