Air race lovers rejoiced after the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) scheduled the annual National Championship Air Races this year in Reno, Nevada, Sept. 12-16. Tickets are already on sale, but time will tell what the event may look like. As a result of the accident investigation following the devastating crash of the Galloping Ghost last year, the NTSB released several safety recommendations for the races this week. The recommendations were issued to the RARA, the FAA, and the National Air-Racing Group Unlimited Division. “We’re not here to put a stop to air racing,” NTSB chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a recent NTSB press release. “We are here to make it safer.”
The press release gave an update on the investigation into the Galloping Ghost accident, which concluded that the “accident sequence initiated with an upset that preceded the separation of the left elevator trim tab by approximately 6 seconds.” The airplane was flying at 460 knots prior to the upset and the airplane at some point exceeded the 9-G limit of the accelerometer, which makes prior assumptions that the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was incapacitated at the time of the impact highly probable.
The investigation into the crash of the Galloping Ghost is still not complete, but it has zeroed in on the extensive modifications made to the airframe of the P-51. The red sections in the attached image indicate the parts of the airplane that have been removed from the original Mustang design. The mods included a reduction of the wingspan from 37 feet to 29 feet and “significant changes to the flight controls – all designed to increase speed and enhance racing performance,” according to the NTSB press release.
The investigation also concluded that the highly modified Galloping Ghost had not been exposed to race speeds prior to the Sept. 16, 2011, event. As a result, “we are issuing a safety recommendation to ensure that pilots and their modified airplanes are put through their paces prior to race day,” said Hersman.
Other recommendations include improved training for race pilots, particularly with relation to G forces; modification of the Unlimited race course design; some ramp modifications and improved pre-race inspections of the airplanes to reduce the risk of the races.
While the suggested changes would affect the organizers, racers and airplanes greatly, they likely wouldn’t amount to a noticeable change for the spectators, should the races proceed as suggested.