Air Races, Airshows, and “Fly-Ins,” accidents all have several common features: they often involve crowds of spectators and many different aircraft often operating in close proximity to each other. Often pilots at these events have varied levels of training and familiarity with the area in which they are flying. In addition, pilots are often flying modified aircraft very “close to the envelope.” Sometimes, the aircraft are “experimental,” in that they have not been issued a standard Type Certificate (TC) by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Krutch Lindell attorneys have extensive experience with these types of cases.
For example, Krutch Lindell represented victims of the Reno Air Races. On September 16, 2011, at the Reno Air Races, a World War II era P-51 Mustang—nicknamed “the Galloping Ghost”—crashed into spectators. The pilot and ten spectators were killed and at least sixty-nine spectators were injured.
Air racing was a popular spectator sport in the 1920s and 1930s, but lost popularity as air travel became ubiquitous. The Reno Air Race is one of the last remaining air racing events. In the “Unlimited Air Racing” class at the Reno Air Race, the pilots typically fly WWII era fighters such as P-51 Mustangs, F-8 Bearcats, and Hawker SeaFuries.
Like many of the other aircraft flying at the Reno Air Races, the Galloping Ghost had been heavily modified to make it faster. For example, the wingspan was shortened from 37 feet to 29 feet and one of the trim tabs had been locked into position. These modifications adversely affected its stability and maneuverability and played a significant role in the crash.
The crash sequence began when the aircraft was flying over 530 miles per hour and pitched then rolled and nosedived into an area in front of the grandstands. Investigators with the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the crash included reused single-use locknuts in the left elevator trim tab system that loosened with time and use. The high speeds and bad locknuts caused a fatigue crack in an attachment screw, which allowed the trim tab to flutter and break apart. Combined with the other untested modifications, this caused the pilot to lose control and crash. The NTSB also released a number of new safety recommendations for future air races relating to the course design, the location of spectators, pre-race inspections, oversight of the airworthiness of modifications to aircraft, improved training relating to G-forces, and ramp modifications.
The 2011 crash was the third crash and second fatal crash in the history of the Reno Air Races. After the 2011 crash, a $77 million fund was created for victims which were distributed in 2013. Krutch Lindell represented a number of the victims of this disaster.