Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Air Race Accidents

Safety in air racing depends on the airplane as well as the pilot

P-51A Mustang
On July 27, 2007, an amateur-built P-51A Mustang was destroyed when it struck the tail section of a North American P51-D Mustang as it was landing on runway 36 during the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Air Show. The airplanes had been part of an air race demonstration involving five aircraft.

The amateur-built aircraft rolled over to the right and impacted the terrain in a wings-level, inverted attitude. The other airplane skidded down the runway, and came to rest about 788 feet from the initial impact point. The pilot in the amateur-built airplane received fatal injuries. The other pilot wasn't injured.

The pilot/builder of the amateur-built P-51 applied for a Special Airworthiness Certificate from the FAA, stating: "This project represents a built-from-scratch exact full-scale replica of the North American P-51A Mustang. It's a 'Plans Built' aircraft built from the original production drawings acquired from the National Archives. The only exception would be the landing gear and a handful of original small components."

The North American P-51D Mustang was manufactured in 1945. The engine was a 1,490 hp Packard-built Rolls Royce V-1650-7. It had a total time of 628 hours since a Special Airworthiness Certificate was issued.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the P-51A pilot's inadequate visual lookout and his failure to maintain clearance from the P-51D.

SNJ Trainers
On September 18, 1994, two World War II trainers, a North American SNJ-5 and a North American SNJ-4, collided about two miles west of the Reno-Stead Airport. Both airplanes were beginning an air race involving six of the trainers. The consensus of witnesses on the ground was that the SNJ-5 overtook the SNJ-4, and struck it with its left wing from below. A participating race pilot reported that the airplanes were to be lined up abreast of each other at the beginning of the race. He said that the SNJ-5 moved out of position before the airplanes reached the staging area. When the airplanes reached the staging area, the SNJ-5 appeared to move back, but the pilot over-corrected and struck the SNJ-4.

The SNJ-5 pitched upward, and its vertical stabilizer and both horizontal stabilizers separated. The rudder remained connected to the airplane by its control cables. When the flight was in a near-vertical climbing attitude, the left wing folded upward, followed by the separation of the left wing's outer panel. The airplane began to cartwheel and spin. It crashed into a house. The pilot was killed.

The pilot of the SNJ-4 closed the throttle and lowered the main landing gears while experiencing severe vibrations. He regained control of the airplane and flew toward Reno-Stead Airport, landing without further incident. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was that the pilot of the SNJ-5 misjudged the distance between the airplanes.


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