Another fine article Robert.
As to the question of whether we've seen the last of the Reno Air Races: probably too early for anyone to give an intelligent answer. At the very least the course needs to be adjusted, and/or the spectator areas be moved back several hundred feet. The management of the Reno Air Races will also have to consider the higher insurance cost to stage such an event, given this recent accident, and how that affects the economic viability of this event in the future. Certainly the closing of the Cleveland National Air Races after that terrible accident in 1949 does not bode well for the continued viability of the Reno Air Races after 2011.
It is harsh to say this but had this crash caused only the death of Mr. Leeward, the Reno Air Races would probably carry on as normal next year. But when innocent spectators are killed at a public event like this the FAA, whose primary responsibility is to advocate for the safety of the public as it pertains to aviation, is compelled to modify or even cancel this venue to prevent other fatalities to spectators. The FAA will no doubt take appropriate action after all pertinent information has been collected and evaluated, respecting the wishes of the relatives of those who perished in this terrible accident.
Certainly air racing is dangerous, just like NASCAR orformula One. But there's one big difference: the wall almost always prevents the cars from ending up in the crowd after a crash. Aviation regulators all around the world learned from the Frecce Tricoleri crash at Ramstein AFB in Germany that killed and wounded numerous spectators. Fast jet aircraft doing acrobatic flight close to crowds wiull crash sooner or later,despite thebes efforts of their pilots. Nothing in aviation is ever 100% safe, despite all of our efforts to do so.
For the sake of air race fans in North America I hope the FAA will chose to alter the course AND move the spectators farther away from the course. While this change might lessen the visual and auditory impacts of the air races, that is better than having no air races at all. Such a change would at best be cold comfort for theloved ones of the people who were sadly killed at Reno; nor should it.
Surrey, British Columbia
It is only by pushing the envelope that we learn how to overcome technical obstacles and it is a disservice to those who have lost their lives in this pursuit not to learn from their sacrifice. It is my belief that the air racing specialists will learn much from this tragedy and we will see some interesting modifications in the future.
I never been to Reno and I apologize for ignorance to the layout, however considering centrifugal forces wouldn’t be the safest place the inside of the course? Would it be practical to locate public at the center field? Another consideration would be at the end of a long straight segment, right before a pylon.
Just speculation at this time, but is it possible that Leeward had a G-LOC when the aircraft pulled up due to a trim tab loss malfunctioning the elevator, and when the aircraft dove to its fate he was unconscious?
Reno may become a casualty of the Internet or saner heads may prevail. The easiest modification is to move the spectators to the infield. But there's no way that every bit of risk can be removed from this event without killing the event itself. If you want a Disneyworld event, you'll have to give up racing. Should baseball fans have to wear helmets? Should jockeys have ejection saddles? Should the Unlimited aircraft conform to OSHA standards before they're permitted to fly?
I understand that fighter pilots for the three services are done with those squadrons and sent out to fly helos and transport planes when they reach the age of 30-35. We know what is the age limit for airline pilots. Reflexes also age along with the rest of the body.
Now insofar the structural integrity of the Leeward modified P-51 can anyone tell me who did the structural evaluation calculations of the stresses expected to be inflicted on the wings, ailerons and trim tabs, and the fuselage itself after they clipped several feet of both wings. Furthermore can anyone tell us which wind tunnel was used to evaluate the new aerodymics derived from clipping the wings, ailerons and tabs. I suspect that everything was done on a "hunch and a prayer", they probably did not bother to do any of this as they were hell bent to increase the speed at any cost.
One final consideration: why almost "sacred" planes that were absolutely instrumental to beat Germany are modified and raced the hell out of. Of course it is their money and it is their lives but instead of tweaking them they should continue to fly them but gently leaving them as they came out from the factories so new generations can have a sense of what the Air War in WWI was about, these planes are history; besides we are talking about Americas finest pilots who put their lives on the line for a good cause.
Let's preserve our history, and race only "race-built" aircraft, at least in the Unlimited portion of the races anyway!
It is called managed risk. It is fortunate that accidents such as this are rare and many other motorsports no matter how safely organised have also had the very unfortunate result of spectator injury and death. One very sad event by history has not exceeded the thrill of the sound, smells and enthusiasm of fellow spectators, racers, engineers. However there should be a more competitive playing field with better design of aircraft designed to constantly be pushed to the limit. There are many "experts" online who think that a P-51 can take mach x and speed XY/Z to the power of R bla bla and my laminar flow whatsit does this and that but it was also designed an prototyped in the 1940s in under 5 months (From memory) and although exceeded expectations it was designed for manoeuvrability first then speed, never tested over 500 mph pushed into service ASAP and although likely pushed beyond limits many times during wartime also came apart during dives mant times in wartime. Beyond that it is unfortunate my father in law (Avionics and airframe engineer) has passed on and not able to refresh my memory on other aspects of the P-51 and other aircraft. In a nutshell my personal view is keep the warbirds flying in their original configuration and design and build something else to keep the Reno races active. I bet you there are no Allison V-1710 engine P-51s out there?
@dhedeman: the title of the article came from the very widely repeated question in the mainstream media AND from non pilots about why in the world we would expose innocent people to such risks. Moreover, how much do you think that Reno's insurance premiums will be next year after 10 are killed and many dozens seriously injured? The sky has already fallen. The only question is, can we muster enough support for the races in the wake of this horrific disaster to stem what seems to me the most likely outcome, which would be the end of the Reno races?
If readers want to learn a bit more about the accident, a quick look at the shape of the race course itself might be valuable. www.airrace.org when the site comes back up. Right now it's down with condolences.
Essentially when I first looked at it, the course appeared somewhat eliptical with one of the tight turns headed southeastward toward the crown before making a tight turn back north. While the course was not OVER the crowd, it was near at just the time something seems to have let go in the tail ... truly unfortunate timing.
That seems to be the point when the airplane banked right and hit the crowd.
My guess is the shape of the course will change to prevent this kind of accident at least from happening again.
Perhaps pushing the entire course back another few hundred feet will be considered. It would have made a difference here.
But air racing die? Never happen ... I hope. As you said Robert, there are regularly accidents at Indy and Daytona and while sad, they don't shut the place down.
The Galloping Ghost wound up over grandstand/reserve seating areas after going vertical and then nosing over at high speed. The pilot had little control when the plane nosed over. He had enough control to decease the number of casualties.
Let's look at this logically for a change...
If you bring yourself or your loved ones to an event like this you've made a conscience decision to expose them to the possibility of death or injury from an uncontrollable situation. People go to races to see the pilots stick their neck out and lay it all out on the line. Whenever a pilot enters an aircraft to perform maneuvers that stress the aircraft to it's limits (like air racing or aerobatics), you increase the odds of having a spectacular fatal accident. How many pilots were killed in this airshow season alone? These accidents are always splashed across every news network and given special attention. The networks play the tape over and over to make sure you know the score. The folks that attend these shows know the score and still venture out "hoping" that they're not involved in a life threatening accident.
People know that there is a possibility that an accident might occur and they've been very lucky prior to this latest accident. You pay your money to see what it's like for others to live their life on the edge and sometimes you become part of the show and not just an observer. It's a bloodsport that can have consequences not only for the pilots performing, but also for anyone in the vicinity who's brave enough to pay their money to be wowed by the routine.
Many folks interviewed at the races say that they would return the next year if the races do indeed continue at Reno. They know what they're getting into. So if the airshow crowd weighs the risk (a rather remote risk at that) with full knowledge of the possibility of being killed or injured, then I say let the show go on.
@Chalete Great post! I couldn't agree more!
First, Reno is only one air race, there's many others.....
Second, just how far back do you want the fans moved? It's an 8 mile, 360 degree course. Any of the racers could roll out in any direction and crash miles away. You could get hit in downtown Reno.....
The aircraft do not overfly the spectators at any time, unless they maneuver out of control.
If you go to an air race or airshow you're assuming risk. If that risk is too much for you, stay home. But send me your ticket.
We have taken the merry-go-round out of the playground. We have insisted that every kid on a bike wear a helmet. We have taken to groping and radiating the public in the ritual humiliation that public air travel has become--now the NFL has knee-jerked into the humiliation regime because a fan misbehaved, and more lax security did not prevent. We have turned our legal system into a lottery where the injured score against the "rich" in ridiculous court cases that don't merit being heard in our over-crowded justice apparatus. We gut our traditions, emasculate our children, and keep far too many trial lawyers employed redistributing wealth instead of contributing their intellects and energies to wealth creation that enriches everyone.
Tragedies happen. Accidents are not on purpose--that's why they are called "accidents." No one can live a risk-free life. Adventure animates life for most of us, either as spectators or participants. But adventure always entails risk of life AND limb. And risk doesn't mean callous disregard for safety. It means that in the process of an activity undertaken for intrinsic value, that SOMETIMES accidents ensue. Our societal risk-aversion is slowly stifling the playful element of our humanity. Let us commit to keeping that playfulness alive--for present and future generations, and let us include the thrill of the Reno Air Races in our National tradition of taking risks worth taking.