The Second World War-era P-51 Mustang hurtled over the race course in Nevada at more than 800 km/h, its skin wrinkling and canopy separating from the sheer force of the flight. A crucial tail control fluttered, its screws loosening.At the stick was 74-year-old pilot Jimmy Leeward, who had listed his age as 59 on a race entry form and made changes to his plane to make it fly faster than it ever had before. It did for several seconds before taking a deadly plunge into spectators.Nearly a year later, and just weeks before organizers stage the race again on Sept. 12, federal investigators on Monday blamed Leeward and his aircraft modifications for the crash.National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, speaking at a board hearing in Washington, compared Leeward’s decisions to putting a loaded gun to a person’s head.“If you want to go out and fly fast and try to win, that’s one thing,” he said. “If you’re modifying an aircraft without fully understanding how the modifications can affect the aerodynamics, you’re playing Russian roulette.”Along with Leeward, 10 people on the ground were killed and more than 70 were hurt in the September 2011 crash. According to the NTSB final report, in addition to cutting 15 years from his own age, Leeward failed to report to the Federal Aviation Administration all the modifications that had been made to his 65-year-old aircraft. He also didn’t provide documentation showing they had been tested.NTSB investigator Clinton Crookshanks said cutting several feet off the aircraft wingspan and other modifications reduced weight and wind resistance. They also weakened the frame and made the aircraft more unstable.Crookshanks said the aircraft’s high speed and loose screws led to “flutter” and vibration on the crucial tail control that made the plane unstable as it rounded a pylon toward the main grandstand.As the plane pitched vertically, Leeward had perhaps one second to respond. Investigators said he was probably rendered unconscious by gravitational forces reaching 17 times normal — and far exceeding the levels of human tolerance.People can begin to experience loss of consciousness at 5G. A photo showed Leeward slumped forward in the cockpit.NTSB chair Deborah Hersman blamed the pilot for “operating at the edge of the envelope” without fully reporting and testing modifications to his plane, dubbed the Galloping Ghost.Source: Reuters
Gravity always wins!