Reno Air Crash: NTSB Critical of Race Organizers' Tracking of Aircraft Discrepancies

No conclusion yet as to exactly what caused the Galloping Ghost to crash last September at the Reno Air Races. But the interim report the NTSB issued today disclosed that the Galloping Ghost experienced an “upset” 6 seconds before it lost its left elevator trim tab. That, in turn, caused the aircraft to go out of control.  None of that  information is really new, and was discussed shortly after the accident in this post and in the post's many thoughtful comments.Galloping Ghost vs. Unmodified P-51D

The NTSB also issued safety recommendations that specifically questioned whether the Galloping Ghost had been properly tested at race speeds or otherwise evaluated for resistance to “flutter;” an aerodynamic phenomenon that can destroy an aircraft in seconds. But that’s not news either -- flutter and its possible role in this crash was discussed the day after the crash here.

There is one fact, however, that we didn’t know before. Race officials inspected the aircraft just before the race and determined that the aircraft’s trim tab’s screws were too short. But the NTSB could find no documentation that the screws had been replaced and the discrepancy resolved before the race started. Though the race inspector stated that he verified that all the aircraft’s discrepancies had been resolved, the NTSB recommended that, in the future, race organizers develop a system that tracks discrepancies found during pre-race technical inspections and ensures that they have been resolved before an aircraft is allowed to race As the NSTB put it:Trim Tab - Reno NTSB

without a method to track discrepancies to resolution, conducting pre-race inspections is of limited value.

The NTSB’s interim report doesn’t say whether the screws were, in fact, replaced. For that, we’ll have to wait for the NTSB to issue its factual report. But even without a system for race officials to track discrepancies, whenever a mechanic performs any work on an aircraft, he is supposed to record that work in the aircraft’s maintenance logs.  If there’s no entry in the Galloping Ghost’s logbooks showing that the screws were changed, that’s evidence that the work wasn’t done, or at least wasn’t done properly.

Besides recommending that race officials establish a better system of ensuring that aircraft discrepancies are repaired before race time, it issued recommendations that would, among other things:  

  • Require race pilots to be trained to tolerate or avoid high g-loadings;
  • Revise the mathematical formulas used to lay out the race courses;
  • Require aircraft to be tested at race speeds before they be allowed to compete; and
  • Require pilots to practice on the actual race course before being allowed to compete.

 

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