Reno Unlimited Gold Crash

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by GregP, Sep 16, 2011.

  1. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    Well, I'm at Reno and we just had a major air racing disaster. It is Friday afternoon.

    It was the Gold heat race on Friday, the last race of the day. We expected Strega to jump out front and that happened, with Voodoo second, Rare Bear third and Galloping Ghost fourth. On the second lap, the Ghost passed Rare Bear (we ecxpected Stu Dawson to only run hard enough to make the race on Sunday) and set his sights on Voodoo and was gaining. We all KNEW this was a fast Mustang, and it was showing.

    On the third lap, right about 1/3 of the way down the runway, an internal explosion was heard from Galloping Ghost (Jimmy Leeward) and he pulled up sharply. The engine went to about idle for only a moment and then returned to what sounded like full throttle, and the Ghost rolled to the right, toward the grandstands.

    The pull-up / right roll continued but, since the Ghost was now inverted, he wound up going straight down for the stands, still at what sounded like full throttle. I was in section C with Pat Yancey (Joe's wife) and it looked for all the world like Galloping Ghost was going to hit us. The roll continued and he impacted almost straight down about 75-100 yards from us, just outside of section D stands. I watched it all the way down, trying to decide which way to try to run. It would not have mattered; it was that fast. The concussion was physical. Parts and fuel went by us and over our heads and continued maybe 100 yards past us, with a strong smell of fuel /nitrous /oil.


    Unfortunately, Galloping Ghost hit in the box seats down in front of the grandstand just to our left. I could have thrown a trennis ball about to the impact point from where we sat.

    Pat and I were both shaking from the adreneline rush of thinking we were in the path, but we made our way out and went looking for Joe Yancey.

    Reports are 20+ dead and 75+ injured.

    Joe Yancey was in the Rare Bear pits at the time and said he was pretty sure the steam boil-off cooler system exploded as Galloping Ghost came past. He thought that because the engine resumed power and the boil-off is the only other thing that could explode and leave the engine running. When it did, it probably caused control system damage to the rudder and elevator, and may well have injured Mr. Leeward, possibly severly or worse.

    The race, of course, was stopped and everyone not with a race crew or emergency crew was asked to leave the field. At minimum they will stand down tomorrow, and maybe end this event. It may well spell the end of the Reno Air Races.

    I for one hope not, but what will happen will happen regardless of what fans like me think.

    Everyone with the Planes of Fame crew is safe and accounted for.

    Not a good day for aviation or air racing, and my heart goes out not only to the victims but also to the Galloping Ghost crew and the Leeward family.

    Condolences don't and won't help, but I feel for them anyway. A tragedy, if ever I saw or head of one. All for now.

    Keep 'em flying, - Greg :(
     
  2. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Thanks for the update, Greg. I am glad to hear that you and the rest of the POF crew are okay. It's a sad day in aviation.
     
  3. wheelsup_cavu

    wheelsup_cavu Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the update. Very sad news about the scope of the accident. :(


    Wheels
     
  4. Pong

    Pong Active Member

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    Watching that P-51 nosedive into the crowd was awful.... :(
     
  5. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Greg, thanks for the info, and all, I did not participate this year, thanks for your concerns!
     
  6. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    Its good to hear you're safe Greg ...and Joe!!!
     
  7. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    Appeared on the News tonight, and I immediately thought of Joe....glad he is OK....

    This is just a devastating and tragic event....:(
     
  8. razor1uk

    razor1uk Well-Known Member

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    A great shame and tradgedy. Heartfelt hopes and wishes of swift recovery minumal trauma to all survivors, families, Reno, the effected communties and participating teams, with Jimmys' Galloping Ghost team also. Glad your physically ok Joe/GregP, I don't kno what to type, I think you all desevre a salutary pint..
     
  9. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Thanks for the detailed report, and good to hear you're OK. A very sad event indeed.
     
  10. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    #10 GregP, Sep 18, 2011
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2011
    Hi guys,

    Back home now and we have had time to reflect on things after the initial reactions.

    We now think that two or even three things may have happened.

    First, the "explosion" could easily have been either the trim tab or the port elevator (or both) departing the aircraft. It might be that the entire port elevator control linkage was damaged, causing the trim tab to flutter and depart, and the port elevator half bell crank or other control coudl also have failed. We think the port because when the Ghost pulled up sharply, it also rolled slowly to the right, indicative of aileron or one-half elevator control. I have experienced one-half elevator control in an RC model and it exhibited exactly the same behavior I witnessed in Galloping Ghost. I was able to land the model only because I was high enough to throttle back and figure out what was happening before it impacted the ground. If I had been at 25 feet, I would have augered in vertically. Lucky timing and enough altitude are what helped out.

    Second, it also could still have been the boil-off system exploding, and that could have caused the trim tab / elevator failure.

    Third, the Oxygen tank is right there, too. If it exploded or if it exploded after the boil-off system went, that would damage the elevator and rudder controls, and could easily cause the loss of the trim tab / elevator half. If the boil-off system went, Mr. Leeward was probably already unconscious or worse when he was still climbing.

    I had breakfast this morning with Dave Cornell, the crew chief for Rare Bear. He confiirmed that they were running a planned race and started the race at just above takeoff power, well short of their race setting. The reason Galloping Ghost passed Rare Bear was Bear was running at only about 3/4 power. They had just stepped up the power a notch on Rare Bear and were catchning the Ghost when the accident happened. When Ghost pulled up, he came very close to hitting Rare Bear and Stu Dawson had nowhere to go without overflying the stands, which he refused to do. So, he did what he could to miss the Ghost and then returned to the racing line while keeping the power coming down. Since he saw the accident, Stu knew the race was going to be called.

    Bottom line, we think a piece of the tail departed the aircraft. Whether or not it was helped along by an internal failure of boil-off or the Oxygen system (or both) we do not know. If the port elevator half was non-responsive for some reason, that accounts for the slow right roll when he pulled up, and the pull-up could have been almost automatic with the loss of the trim tab or elevator since the aircraft was running well over WWII speeds at the time, the tab would have been set a bit nose-down at 480+ mph.

    I personally think the current estimate of 9 dead is low. I saw the crash clearly, saw the aftermath, and there were more dead than nine; just my opinion and probably worth what you paid for it. However, I DO think the cause was a mechanical failure in Galloping Ghost resulting in loss of control of the aircraft at just exactly the wrong place.

    People have mentioned that we are losing rare aircraft and maybe we shouldn' race at all. Racing is dangerous by nature. This is the Unlimited Gold Air Racing Class, and the birds in the Gold race have very little in common with a stock aircraft of the same type. ALL of the current crop of Gold racers were modified for racing when these aircraft were plentiful, and are not "new" cut-up racers. They have been undergoing modification for more than 40 years in most cases.

    I have news for all the people who want no crashes ... even the most modern Formula 1 race car, with brand new parts in it less than a day old has failures in racing because racing at the limit pushes the machine and man hard. These racers pull more g-force than any formula 1 car. This one was simply the "golden bullet" that just happened to happen at exactly the wrong spot on the race course.

    Tragic? Yes. Indicative of old, worn-out aircraft? No way. The Ghost was in great shape and had just run at 485 mph +. What happened was failure of a mechanical part, whether it was the boil-off, Oxygen, or trim tab / elevator departure or failure, at racing speed ... at JUST THE WRONG TIME. The Reno Air Races began in 1964 and this is the first time in Reno racing history this type of accident ahs happened. Think about that.

    In 2009 there were 12 official races counting heat races, Gold Silver, and Bronze. That is just Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They also practice and run pre-qualifyingbheats for the entire week before the races start on Friday. Call it 25 - 30 races in one year. If we did the same every year since 1964, that is 1,175 or so races without this type of thing happening.

    Definitely safer than formula 1 or NASCAR. Just my opinion and anyone is free to disagree. It is still my opinion. So, I hope racing continues, and I hope we find out ecactly what happened so we can prevent it from happening again on an Unlimited racing aircraft.

    Thanks for all your kind words.
     
  11. evangilder

    evangilder "Shooter"
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    Great analysis and comment, Greg. Your point about these being highly modified at a time when they were plentiful was spot on. Every activity in life carries some risk, regardless of how careful one is. But aviation is still a safe thing to do and you have a better chance getting killed on the freeway than you do in a small airplane,
     
  12. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    Great synopsis Greg. And I agree. There is a BIG difference between restored warbirds and racing warbirds - BIG difference.
     
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