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"Galloping Ghost" crashes at Reno Air Races

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Just a few moments ago, Mat Jackson (Vice President of the RARA Unlimited pilots association) offered, in a local radio interview, their preliminary findings on the accident last Friday at Reno. The NTSB will release the "official" findings in a few months, but Mr. Jackson offered something that I hadn't considered. Jimmy Leeward's P-51 only this year advanced up to the "Gold" category classification at Reno. HIs aircraft has been extensively modified and all of the aircraft in this category are operating on the very limit of the envelope. During this particular race, Galloping Ghost had been running in 4th place, but Jimmy increased the power settings and passed a Sea Fury and had just come up under "Rare Bear" (an extensively modified F8F Bearcat, which has lapped Reno at 515 mph average), when his trim apparently failed. Mr. Jackson was an observer of this specific race, and they have reviewed the many photographs, video, and personal observation, plus they have already re-modeled (computer) the accident and their initial findings are indicating that it "WAS" the trim-tab failure that most likely lead to the accident. Aircraft, in this class are rounding the pylons at extremely high loads, as in high "G" loads. Stick loading is generally beyond a pilot's capability without adjusting the elevator trim as you enter and exit a pylon. When Jimmy appeared to follow protocol by immediately climbing, observers noted his climb was extremely violent and un-controlled and the action of his aircraft's tail-wheel extending is further evidence that the Galloping Ghost's load in the climb and subsequent roll, exceeded 12 to 14 Gs. The tail-wheel extended because the retraction lock will generally sheer, after 10 to 11 Gs of postive G force. Audio of the crash, indicates that Jimmy's engine was still at full throttle and his speed was most likely between 490 and 510 mph when he struck the ground. Jimmy Leeward, in all likelihood, lost conciousness during the initial climb and never regained conciousness before striking the ground. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV

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In the photo above, provided by jahman, you'll notice that Jimmy Leeward is not visible in the cockpit, this is because his body is still being subjected to a 12-14 G postive load factor and has sunk below the canopy edge. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV

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In the photo above, provided by jahman, you'll notice that Jimmy Leeward is not visible in the cockpit, this is because his body is still being subjected to a 12-14 G postive load factor and has sunk below the canopy edge. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV
Is it possible, the high G's of the pullout caused him to black out, resulting in loss of control of the stick? When I looped the Mustang we pulled 4G's and you can feel it. At the speed these planes were at, he must have been pulling 7 or more!!

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Is it possible, the high G's of the pullout caused him to black out, resulting in loss of control of the stick? When I looped the Mustang we pulled 4G's and you can feel it. At the speed these planes were at, he must have been pulling 7 or more!!
Mat Jackson, Vice President of the Unlimited Pilots Association, states that the violent pull-up, caused by the Galloping Ghost's trim-tab failure, probably subjected Jimmy Leeward to 12+Gs and that level of G force maintained itself until he struck the ground. The above photo only supports that early speculation by those doing the investigation Its extremely unlikely Jimmy Leeward was concious when he struck the ground. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV

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Do understand everyone, because the Reno National Air Races are a local event for me and considering my high interest in aviation, this accident hits harder, not just for me, but everyone I know that lives here as well. Our local news people, television and radio, are all equally saddened by this accident, especially considering that Jimmy Leeward has been coming here and racing since the 1970s and though he wasn't from this area, he was quite well known and respected. As I listened to Mat Jackson today, discuss the cause of the accident, at least as the experts are seeing it for the moment, you could hear the difficulty in Mat's voice, as he attempted to explain what happened. It is made even more difficult considering that the accident took so many lives of the fans and considering the seriousness of the injuries, with those that survived, its going to effect our town for years to come. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV

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"Leeward followed race protocol and immediately climbed for altitude, but his aircraft barreled rolled right.." That's interesting, as I wondered how the detachment of something as small as a trim tab could bring a plane down, but I guess this, combined with the airspeed at the time, produced an pronounced imbalance of lift on the tailplane causing the plane to rotate. If he was pulling hard to gain height then that, combined with the roll & low altitude, could (and evidently did) easily end up with the plane diving into the ground before the pilot could work out what the hell had happened and try to deal with it.
Trim tabs have a remarkable amount of force even at low speeds. One of the lessons I do on types of stalls includes elevator trim stalls. In this stall we slow down to an approach speed then add full nose up trim. I then have them add full power and with just prop wash and slow speeds the nose climbs dramatically and is very difficult to push down without adjusting the trim.

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Do understand everyone, because the Reno National Air Races are a local event for me and considering my high interest in aviation, this accident hits harder, not just for me, but everyone I know that lives here as well. Our local news people, television and radio, are all equally saddened by this accident, especially considering that Jimmy Leeward has been coming here and racing since the 1970s and though he wasn't from this area, he was quite well known and respected. As I listened to Mat Jackson today, discuss the cause of the accident, at least as the experts are seeing it for the moment, you could hear the difficulty in Mat's voice, as he attempted to explain what happened. It is made even more difficult considering that the accident took so many lives of the fans and considering the seriousness of the injuries, with those that survived, its going to effect our town for years to come. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV
Thanks for the additional information Steve and for explaining further what happened. I am grateful for the community we have in Reno/Sparks and the way everyone has responded to it. We will recover from it eventually and I surely hope the event continues in the future. I hope you are doing well.

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We just learned today that another injured spectator, from the Air Race accident, has succombed to their injuries, bringing the fatalities to 11. Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV

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CNN posted a new video of the crash (WARNING: It's quite terrifying!) An analysis of the images of the video appears to show Galloping Ghost flying inverted (top right corner) after losing pitch control and 135º into into an involuntary Inner Loop (with the previous picture apparently showing the aircraft at the 315º position), unfortunately at too low an altitude/too high an airspeed to allow recovery, even if the pilot had been able to regain control of aircraft pitch. Note surviving spectators were lucky twice: Not only did the aircraft miss directly impacting the stands, but the horizontal component of the aircraft's trajectory meant the debris ejecta mainly sprayed away from the stands, also missing most spectators (but unfortunately not all). - jahman.

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Oh, my! Look at that split elevator and mangled left trim-tab! dsc066.jpg The relevant bit of the Reno 89 (Day 6) Race you posted:
Shortly before the first call from Hannah, he had abruptly pulled up from the pack, then began a slow descending turn back to the race course.... Problem was....Bob was NOT flying the airplane! Voodoo was flying herself. Bob Hannah was sitting in the cockpit unconscious from the 10+ g. load he had just endured when the control rod for the left half of the elevator snapped as the elevator trim tab fluttered and departed the airplane, causing the very sharp pull up! The confused conversation coming from Bob was an indication of his condition as he awoke from the momentary lapse of consciousness. He was in trouble...
Cheers, - jahman.

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Oh, my! Look at that split elevator and mangled left trim-tab! dsc066.jpg The relevant bit of the Reno 89 (Day 6) Race you posted: Cheers, - jahman.
Man if that photo is an accurate depiction, of it's condition before takeoff, then that's damming evidence that this accident, could and should have been prevented by doing a proper walk around inspection. This plane never should have left the ground.

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Man if that photo is an accurate depiction, of it's condition before takeoff, then that's damming evidence that this accident, could and should have been prevented by doing a proper walk around inspection. This plane never should have left the ground.
That's not the one that crashed.

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Man if that photo is an accurate depiction, of it's condition before takeoff, then that's damming evidence that this accident, could and should have been prevented by doing a proper walk around inspection. This plane never should have left the ground.
That photo is from 1998 of a different plane that had a similar failure but managed to land safely.

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That photo is from 1998 of a different plane that had a similar failure but managed to land safely.
Thanks for the clarification Kevin, and Zach, glad to see that wasn't the cause. I couldn't see how such an experienced and respected pilot like Jimmy Leewood, could have missed that in a preflight walk around. I should have looked closer at the markings of the plane in the photo to realize that wasn't the plane. My bad!!

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It raises the question as what the aircraft certification requirements are for aircraft that race in "unlimited" classes. It would seem to need more than what an "experimental" would receive. Considering loss of trim tab on this type has been seen before it suggests a possible design weakness. I wonder how much engineering analysis goes into the design of these? Also, what kind of criteria is there for the effective stick control forces the pilot can feel? At some point there must be a need for hydraulic assist or other mechanical advantage? Possibly flutter? Viewing the footage it could have easily resulted in much greater casualties. scott s..

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It raises the question as what the aircraft certification requirements are for aircraft that race in "unlimited" classes. It would seem to need more than what an "experimental" would receive. Considering loss of trim tab on this type has been seen before it suggests a possible design weakness. I wonder how much engineering analysis goes into the design of these? Also, what kind of criteria is there for the effective stick control forces the pilot can feel? At some point there must be a need for hydraulic assist or other mechanical advantage? Possibly flutter? Viewing the footage it could have easily resulted in much greater casualties. scott s..
You raise an interesting point and your post made me wonder that it's really strange that a famous and very lethal to the enemy fighter aircraft should have a weakly-designed tail. Rather not, I figured, and at that instant it hit me: The elevator assembly was overstressed because the wings were shortened! Shorter wings have shorter wing cantilevers so overall the aircraft can withstand higher Gs! But pulling higher Gs requires... a higher elevator force! Because the wings were shortened, elevator forces increased beyond their design strength. Recall in fighter aircraft weight saving is at a premium more than in any other type of aircraft, so the P-51 elevator assembly would have been designed with the minimum metal to withstand maximum elevator forces given the original-design wingspan. No need for the elevator assembly to survive elevator forces needed to pull Gs outside the flight envelope since outside the flight envelope the aircraft is destroyed. But elevator forces are also increased for every turn, because with the shorter wingspan the aircraft needs a higher angle of attack to pull the same Gs as compared to original wingspan because of the heavier wing loading. Now when you combine the fact that you can pull higher Gs and that for every G you pull elevator forces will be higher, you can see how these to effects double-up and can easily overstress the elevator assembly. Cheers, - jahman.

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It raises the question as what the aircraft certification requirements are for aircraft that race in "unlimited" classes. It would seem to need more than what an "experimental" would receive. Considering loss of trim tab on this type has been seen before it suggests a possible design weakness. I wonder how much engineering analysis goes into the design of these? Also, what kind of criteria is there for the effective stick control forces the pilot can feel? At some point there must be a need for hydraulic assist or other mechanical advantage? Possibly flutter? Viewing the footage it could have easily resulted in much greater casualties. scott s..
I assume you mean with the modifications made to these aircraft. Stock these planes were never designed to fly at the speeds in this race. Also remember they are over 60 years or more old!!

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At this stage I don't think we really know what happenned. FWIW the pilot could have been knocked unconscious (see New York Times photo) by the sudden pull-up due to loss of the elevator trim tab and never regained sufficient consciousness to take control of the aircraft defore hitting the ground. Cheers, - jahman.
According to spectators the pilot fought hard to keep the plane from going in the stands creating a greater disaster. I don't think he was asleep before impact, he was a hero though... That picture looks a little doctored to me for some reason...

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According to spectators the pilot fought hard to keep the plane from going in the stands creating a greater disaster. I don't think he was asleep before impact, he was a hero though... That picture looks a little doctored to me for some reason...
The picture is sourced from the New York Times and a link is provided so you can check the original for yourself. It is unlikely such a prestigious news source would post a doctored picture. Cheers, - jahman.

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According to spectators the pilot fought hard to keep the plane from going in the stands creating a greater disaster. I don't think he was asleep before impact, he was a hero though... That picture looks a little doctored to me for some reason...
I have met Jimmy Leeward in the past and I can tell you without hesitation, had he been able, he would have most assuredly done everything he could to have prevented this very unfortunate accident, but the reality is that Jimmy was unconcious from the moment his trim-tab failed until his aircraft hit the ground. Members of the NTSB today released photos that show, without question, his head down and forward in the cockpit, adding further evidence to the extensive level of G-force he experienced, renduring it virtually impossible he was conscious. That, plus the evidence of the tail-wheel, have the NTSB leading toward the belief Jimmy's aircraft had exceeded 10 Gs of postive force, possibly as much as 14 Gs, sustained. The photo above does show a P-51 with a damaged trim-tab, but unfortunately, that photo is of a P-51 other than the Galloping Ghost. Besides other obvious differences, to me, there is one overtly obvious problem with this photograph, it shows this aircraft's race number to be #5 and the Galloping Ghost's race number was #177. (another difference is the P-51 in the above photo, still retains the stock rear engine air dump cowl and Jimmy's P-51 used a completely different method of air cowling.) Steve (Bear) CartwrightReno, NV

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As previously stated, the aircraft in the photo, with the missing left elevator trim tab is Bob Hannah's Voodoo from 1998.

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Yes, we're all aware that photo os not from the accident aircraft, but it does show elevator assembly failure that is likely similar to that of the accident aircraft. It would be interesting to know if Bob Hannah's Voodoo from 1998 also had its wings shortened. Cheers, - jahman.

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Yes, we're all aware that photo os not from the accident aircraft, but it does show elevator assembly failure that is likely similar to that of the accident aircraft.
Are you referring to a specific report of elevator failure? Or just considering it...So far the trim seems to be the focus.The account of what happened to Bob Hannah's (Voodoo) explains a lot.I've read the stick forces would be nearly unmanageable.And the G-forces involved would quickly bring on unconscious.It's really amazing what these pilots do. Edit: I see now what you mean - I think you mean the elevator in general…the trim specifically

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Edit: I see now what you mean - I think you mean the elevator in general…the trim specifically
Yes! Note how odd the forces on Bob Hannah's Voodoo elevator assembly must have been to result in what looks like a 20º left vs. right elevator divergence. Did the left trim tab failure cause the elevator divergence, or did the elevator divergence cause the trim tab failure? What is the elevator assembly structure that could make such an elevator divergence possible? Are the two elevators connected to one shaft actuated by a single bellcrank, or is each elevator actuated by it's own bellcrank for redundancy? Cheers, - jahman.

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