On Sunday, September 18th, a pilot died in a tragic accident at the Reno Air Races in Reno, Nevada. During the air race, a single-pilot Aero Vodochody L-29 airplane collided with the ground resulting in the pilot’s death. Upon impact, the aircraft burst into flames. The official cause of the crash has not yet been made known to the public. The pilot’s identity will be released once the next of kin has been notified.
Air show disaster
Following the accident, first responders raced to the crash scene, where the pilot was recovered and reported deceased at the scene. The Reno Air Racing Association expressed its sympathies to the pilot’s family and suspended all remaining air races in the event. A spokesperson for the association stated,
“During the jet gold race on the third lap there was a fatal incident at outer pylon 5 today,
“All other pilots landed safely and race operations for 2022 have been suspended. We express our deepest sympathies to the pilot’s family and friends as well as racers and race fans who make up our September family.”
Following the crash, an immediate investigation ensued. The pilot’s body has been transported to the medical examiner’s office, where the identification process is underway. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office stated,
“WCSO detectives are currently working the scene with the Medical Examiner’s Office. No names will be released until notification of next of kin,”
Later the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) began investigating the accident. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will also start its investigation soon. The two government entities will search to find the cause of the accident to correct the mistake and make aviation safer.
Anniversary of a tragedy
11 years ago, on September 16th, 2011, another aircraft accident occurred during the same airshow in Reno. The aircraft involved was a modified North American P-51 Mustang nicknamed the Galloping Ghost. The P-51 is famous for its service as a US fighter during World War II. Today only a handful remain airworthy and most of which are commonly used in airshows.
During the airshow, the aircraft crashed into the crowd of spectators. The accident killed the pilot, James Leeward, and ten spectators. After rounding the eighth pylon, the plane pitched up while rolling inverted before nosediving towards the audience. The aircraft collided with the crowd traveling 400 miles per hour. The pilot died on impact, as did seven spectators; four others later died in the hospital. In addition to the fatalities, there was a total of 69 reported injured persons at the scene.
The NTSB conducted a thorough investigation of the accident, looking particularly at the high number of modifications the aircraft has received since production. The plane had been used in various air shows and races for decades before the accident, suffering only minor damage in previous incidents. Before the 2011 air race, the aircraft was subject to several additional modifications.
Ultimately the NTSB determined that several factors were at play when the accident occurred. During the race, Leeward pushed the aircraft to 530 miles per hour, 40 more than it had ever been flown. The added stress on the airframe that was not designed for such tremendous force caused multiple single-use bolts constituting the linkage of the elevator trim tab to break, allowing the trim tab to flail aimlessly.
Under normal flight conditions in straight and level flight, this would be a safety concern to the pilot but would not cause an inverted dive such as this. However, while flying acrobatics at extreme speeds, the rapid change in aircraft attitude coupled with the powerful forces placed on the flight controls caused the aircraft to nosedive into the ground.