The NTSB on Monday singled out deteriorated parts as the probable cause behind the Reno crash that left 11 dead and more than 60 injured last September when the P-51 Galloping Ghost, piloted by veteran pilot Jimmy Leeward, went out of control following a structural failure of the trim tab system.
According to the investigative agency’s final report, degenerated locknut inserts initially triggered the loosening of Galloping Ghost’s trim tab screws, which would go on to cause instability in the system that made the tab unable to withstand the forces of the high speed flight.
As the 70-year-old airplane raced at speeds above 500 mph, the unsound trim tab eventually succumbed to flutter, the NTSB said, causing 74-year-old Leeward to lose control of the airplane and crash into the VIP area in front of the bleachers.
In addition to faulty parts, the NTSB’s final report also cites “undocumented and untested major modifications” as a contributing factor to the crash. Such modifications are nearly universal on Unlimited Category raceplanes.
While the definitive Reno crash report comes nearly a year after the accident, some of the Board’s safety recommendations issued earlier this year are already being implemented by the FAA in advance of this year’s Reno Air Races event, slated to take place Sept. 12-16. The course has been moved farther away from spectators to provide additional safety, and the Reno Air Race Association (RARA) of its own volition has appointed a new director of safety to oversee the show. While the NTSB recommended the association consider making every race pilot wear a G-suit, RARA officials have said they will not implement the requirement because they are not convinced that the suits would serve as more of a benefit than a distraction.