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Thread: Reno NTSB Report

  1. #1

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    Reno NTSB Report

    The NTSB Reno accident report is out, I read it on the AOPAsite.
    In short, it says that the elevator trim tabs had been modified and the hardware was worn and screws failed and the tabs fluttered and broke off.
    Instantly, with the loss of level trim, the nose itched up violently and the pilot would be unconcious and the stick was to the right causing the roll.
    It says a 17 g pull up, which I have much doubt as a stock P-51 is built to stand 8 gs, doubt if it could have over twice that much and stay together which it did except for the trim tab.
    NTSBs Robt Sumwalt, seems pretty qualified, though not as a racer, and he is critical that as he says the plane should have been tested at speed after the modifications were done.

    Jimmy was a friend and a good guy, good pilot, and myself and many others morn his loss and those others from that day.
    I saw Dirk Leeward at Oskosh, we talked a little about his Dad, but I really was at a loss what to say. What really is there to say in such a difficult time?

    My Son called me last week to ask if I was going to Reno and might take he and a friend who knows one of the L39 pilots. I just have more dread than desire to be there right now, and I pray it will be safe.
    Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 08-29-2012 at 10:59 AM.

  2. #2
    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    Technically, the Reno Accident Report is NOT out. They published the abstract of the hearing and a press release with the findings of the mechanical failure, but that's not been distilled down into an official final report.
    Most of the raw data on the dockets was made public last Friday as well. You can dig through the docket there if you wish: http://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms/search/hi...=1&TXTSEARCHT=

    A lot of the effort here isn't so much why Jimmy crashed but rather what the NTSB wants the FAA and RARA to do in the future. There was obviously a push to see if they could get some things taken care of before this year's races. A lot of it involves scruitiny of aircraft and their mods in the unlimited categories, changing the manouvering vs. crowd areas, moving fueling areas, and increasing g-loading awareness for pilots.

    Much as I think it probably was immaterial in that no pilot would likely have survived this failure, there are some disturbing info in the medical investigation part of the investigation.

  3. #3
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    I have a lot of heartburn over the tone and insinuation in the abstract. Most of the external structural racing mods to GG were done before Jimmy purchased her, specifically the trimming of the wing and tailfeathers (done twice as I recall) - literally decades before the existing-at-the-time-of-the-accident FSDO notification requirements, and obviously well before the additional engineering evaluation and testing recommendations that came out following the accident.

    Clearly the elevator trim tab on the Mustang is an area that really does need more attention from all racers, given now several incidents/accidents - at the speeds the Unlimited heavyweights are capable of there is no room for slop, there be dragons here.

    While I do support the recommendation for better evaluation and testing, it is, IMO, unreasonable to suggest that GG had not been adequately tested at speed prior to the races, I say that based on anecdotal reports of GG's performance prior to being shipped to Reno for last year's races. There were rumors of a practice lap approaching 520 mph. The only real difference between that practice lap and the actual race would have been the dynamic air conditions racing with three to five other heavy iron racers - and there is simply no practical way to do that, other than in the race environment.

    As an aside, the report was that GG was going 512 mph at the pitch-up, and that is an amazing speed - Rare Bear's all out FAI record is 528 mph, and that was almost 25 years ago, Dago Red's NCAR record is 507 mph, and that was almost 10 years ago.

    The accident was a terrible shock and a great loss, but considering the overall safety record for NCAR, and given the ever increasing knee-jerk reaction for more and more regulation and oversight, I am glad the response wasn't more knee-jerk and heavy-handed.
    Last edited by AcroGimp; 08-29-2012 at 04:23 PM.
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    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    Well, I don't find the recommendations made to RARA and NAG either knee-jerk nor a demand for more regulation. From the tone of their response, it would appear they agree with most of the points made by the NTSB to some extent (with the exception of the efficacy of G-suits for the race pilots) even when the NTSB has no regulatory binding on them. In fact the only REGULATORY change the NTSB recommended would appear to be some moderate changes to the approval of the air course with respect to the spectators when issuing the race waivers.

    You may be a great friend of Jimmy and the GG team and feel offended but think of it this way, I lost two friends in the boxes that he crashed into as well.
    They have every right to as a comprehensive and unbiased outcome of the investigation as your friends.
    Last edited by FlyingRon; 08-29-2012 at 06:04 PM.

  5. #5
    AcroGimp's Avatar
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    Clarifying, I am not a friend of Jimmy's, although I would have been proud to be one - never got to meet him personally, only watched from far away through his exploits and outreach/philanthropy.

    The tone in the abstract, to me, was rather accusatory with respect to the mods GG had undergone, I only wanted to point out that many of the biggest mods were completed prior to her purchase by Jimmy. Also, conventional approaches to testing that are applicable in the certified world (I am a Reliability/Safety/Maintainability Engineering Manager in aerospace) are not really possible for these extremely modified raceplanes, they are literally flying as fast as they can go.

    I also object to the wording that a line was crossed with respect to the safety of spectators - the tickets as I understand it have had a waiver for years that explains the race is potentially dangerous, how anyone could go to an event like this, observe such power, speed and inertia at such close range and NOT know in their hearts there is some potential risk is simply beyond me.

    Once you think for a moment about the kinetic energy of a 6-7,000lb raceplane, travelling at 500 mph, having a full six degree of freedom, you begin to appreciate that the current course and race pilot training to turn into the course if experiencing trouble, is not just the best way, it is the only way to minimize the potential for injury to spectators - but in an event like what happened to GG, it is purely probabalistic, the plane can travel almost no distance, to great distance, in any direction - most of the time the only loss would be the pilot and/or the plane.

    While gut wrenchingly tragic for those who were killed or injured and of course their family and friends (I had 2 friends there who were close enough to have been killed), the accident was the statistical abberation everyone feared, and which has, in almost 60 years now, only happened once.

    I for one am proud of how the community reacted in reaching out to help survivors and the familes of those lost, and I am also satisfied that the reaction was not too bad, just wish the abstract wasn't written the way it was.
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    This was an accident, an aberation. It came from striving to be the fastest; so much so that it went over the edge and a disaster happened, both to Jimmy and others.
    Jimmy was a very nice guy, I and many other have been to his fly in lunch at the Leeward Air Ranch just outside Ocala, Florida a number of times. He, and his family were always charming hosts.
    I don't think he would ever have flown this race if he thought it was a real danger to the public. His Wife, Son, and many crew members and friends were in that crowd also.
    Jimmy leaves a large family and grandkids. I am sure they feel extra pain that others suffered also. We don't need to make that the main focus of this.
    Did any of us who are all knowing after the fact, stand up before the race and say this layout is too dangerous and we need to slow down the planes or move the pylons or the crowd?
    And no, I don't think just because there is a waring or waiver on the tickets, that an accident is ok. We need to make it as safe as we reasonably can.
    If I go to a hockey game I don't expect a puck in my face or to Indy a car to come into the crowd, or an elephant in the stands at the circus?
    Last edited by Bill Greenwood; 08-30-2012 at 12:37 PM.

  7. #7
    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    I agree with Bill. A waiver doesn't mean anything. Similar waivers are on your auto race tickets and half a dozen other things. That means that there is an element of danger in the nature of the event. It isn't a license for wanton negligence and failure to exercise the basic tenets of due care. Further, there are always things learned in hindsight in the "unforseeable" situations. That doesn't make the people who were involved in the current situation, wrong, it just means we learn from things for next time.

    I'd recommend if you're interested, to go to the docket file provided above. You can wade through the factual reports or not, but read the three NTSB safety letters (one to the FAA, one to RARA, and one to NAG) and then their responses. It's not accusatory, witch hunting, or finger pointing. They're concrete suggestions to how to improve things and the people to which the letters were directed by and large agree with the suggestions.

    The nice thing about the NTSB is that there is no general disposition to assign lawsuit-style blame or shift negligence issues from one party to another. In fact, certain groups (particularly lawyers) are banned from being "interested parties" to NTSB investigations.

  8. #8
    AcroGimp's Avatar
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    With respect to the waiver, I did not intend to suggest any accident is OK, only that anyone who does not recognize the inherent danger of being close to machines like this, in this environment probably needs to be wearing a helmet once they get out of bed. As for the 'protection' that can be afforded against an errant hockey puck, race car wheel (or whole car) even a rampaging elephant, those are cake walks compared to trying to provide 100% protection from a 3 ton, 500 mph race plane with 6 degrees of freedom - the energies are completely and unimaginably incomparable (think stopping a Smart Car at 35 mph compared to stopping a locomotive at 85 mph) - and yet NASCAR and Indy fans are still injured and die, Circus fans and performers are still injured and die, Rally Car fans are injured and die, Unlimited Hydroplane drivers and fans are injured and die.

    Clearly we can and should continue to work to improve safety, for the spectators, for the pilots, and for these wonderful historic fire-breathing beasts, but 100% safety is only possible from 100% absence of risk. I think with the exception of the G-suit recommendation which is simply a non-starter, most of the recommendations are reasonable although flutter concerns taken to Part 25 type certification limitations would likely result in speeds significantly slower than we are currently seeing at Reno without a corresponding increase in overall level of safety.
    Last edited by AcroGimp; 08-30-2012 at 02:35 PM.
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  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by AcroGimp View Post
    I think with the exception of the G-suit recommendation which is simply a non-starter, most of the recommendations are reasonable although flutter concerns taken to Part 25 type certification limitations would likely result in speeds significantly slower than we are currently seeing at Reno without a corresponding increase in overall level of safety.
    Going a step farther, flutter testing wouldn't have helped. A part failed. Flutter testing doesn't account for structural failure of a previously worn or damaged part.

    That's what gets me about the entire thing. A defective fastener was missed during the inspection of the aircraft, and that is what led to the crash. I do not know how to prevent someone from missing something during a physical inspection of an aircraft. "Look harder" isn't an effective technique.

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    I think the race planes should do a dive test (flutter and structure check) to perhaps 5 percent above race speed after any repair or modification (and before any public event).
    Maybe this dive test is already required (anyone know?), but in my review of the NTSB report I did not see any mention.

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