Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I looked under the hood of CorduroyPlanet over the weekend, and I noticed some readers dug extra deep and looked at my take on the fatal crash at the Reno Air Races last year again.

"Chilled" is my most-viewed blog by a longshot. Over 14,700 pageviews to date. I reread it again, and there's a few things that are a little more clear to me now. I wrote about it back in April. I penned "Old Wounds" after the NTSB held it's first presentation on the Galloping Ghost crash...Jeez, it seems so long ago!

OK, here's what I think happened, given the NTSB comments:

The Galloping Ghost was a highly modified P-51D Mustang aircraft from the WWII era. Many features of the airframe were modified to reduce aerodynamic drag and weight.

Modifications were made to the elevator trim tabs: The starboard trim tab was disabled by design and faired into the elevator control surface, leaving the portside trim tab to do all the trim duties, saving drag and the weight of the control mechanism.

The stock hydraulic elevator trim system was removed and replaced with an electric actuator, adjusting the trim tab via a control rod.

As Jimmy Leeward ran the Galloping Ghost around pylons 8 and 9 there was a failure of the elevator trim system...the actuator may have failed, or it's mounting failed, or it's connection to the control rod, or the control arm on the trim tab failed, sending the aircraft into a 9+ G climb, rendering Jimmy  unconscious instantly. The rest was the Devil's Arithmetic, only the grace of God kept the crash from killing hundreds. Jimmy never regained consciousness. Flutter of the uncontrolled trim tab ripped it free of it's mounts as the craft was winging over, as visible in the photo posted in "Chilled".

In the days after the accident, I read an account from a corporate pilot who was in the grandstands directly behind the point of impact. He said he saw the Ghost pull up suddenly, and he was on his feet and running up the grandstands before the Ghost finished the wingover at the top of the climb. When the craft impacted the tarmac, this pilot was halfway up the grandstand and he was suddenly soaked with avgas and hit with bits of shrapnel. Miraculously, no ignition spark was generated by the crash preventing a truly horrendous tragedy.

The "Missing Man" pit stall
The ghost of the tragedy hung heavy in the air at Stead during Race Week, Jimmy's pit stall was kept vacant as a memorial, and there was a minute of silence each day during the Opening Ceremonies.

It's hard to say which was responsible for the semi-subdued atmosphere out at Stead, the smaller crowds or the raw emotions given the tragedy last year. I expect the crowds to return next September. This year's crowds were suppressed by the late word (mid-August) that the show would go on. Air Race Fans will return, you can be sure.

I know I'll be back in the Valley of Speed in 2013!

October Baseball!
The San Francisco Giants just defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine, eliminating the Dodgers from the Wild Card Race. Barry Zito pitched a good game before the Bums came back to make it 4-3 in the 7th. The Giants bullpen by committee pulled it out in a game that seemed like a playoff game!

1 comment:

  1. Simple laws of gravity and risks. What goes up, must come down. Mix speed and airplanes together, well, the risks go up and sometime they come down with a thunderous consequence.

    In memory of those looky loos in the stands also.

    Oh the horror.