The crash of an F8F Bearcat at Breckenridge, Texas, last week that claimed the life of well known air racer and airshow performer Howard Pardue came during an abortive aerobatic maneuver. According the NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash, Pardue was executing a low-level manuever that somehow went terribly wrong.
A witness, a pilot who was waiting to take off behind Pardue, described the chain of events to investigators. Pardue “reportedly announced over the radio that he was going to perform a Half Cuban Eight aerobatic maneuver after takeoff and then overfly the runway in the opposite direction,” according to the NTSB report.
At first the maneuver seemed to go according to plan. “After liftoff the accident airplane climbed 100 to 200 feet in a shallow climb before it pitched-up into a near vertical climb. The airplane continued the climb in an inside loop before leveling out, inverted, about 500 feet above the runway heading the opposite direction of the takeoff,” the investigator reported.
Then things began to go terribly wrong. Again, according the NTSB, the witness then saw “the airplane's wings roll suddenly before the airplane entered a near vertical descent. The witness described the final portion of the aerobatic maneuver as a split-S maneuver, or a descending half loop, from which the airplane was unable to recover before colliding with terrain on a southeasterly heading. The witness stated that there was an explosion when the airplane collided with terrain and that a post impact fire ensued.”
The NTSB did not reach any conclusions about probable cause in its preliminary report. Such statements usually aren’t issued until months after the mishap when the Board releases its final report.