Crashes at Two Air Shows Over the Weekend

Martinsburg, WV Air Show Crash, Photo Credit: Journal of Martinsburg-Ron Agnir

By now most people have heard about the tragic air show crashes this past weekend: one in Reno, Nevada and one in Martinsburg, West Virginia. With these latest accidents many are questioning the safety of air shows for both the pilots and spectators. Currently the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating both accidents to try to determine the respective causes.

The first accident involved a souped-up P-51 Mustang at the air show in Reno. The aircraft had been modified to perform as a racer, cutting 10 feet off of the original wingspan and nearly halving the span of the ailerons. According to the AP, even the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, was unsure of how it would perform.  During the flight, the aircraft pitched into the crowd killing nine people, including the pilot, and injuring dozens more. From initial photographs, it appears that an elevator trim tab broke off prior to the crash. The elevator trim tab assists in controlling the aircraft pitching and could hold clues into what went wrong during the flight. According to the AP, “Leeward is the 20th pilot to die at the air races since they began 47 years ago, but Friday’s crash was the first in which spectators were killed.”

The second accident involved a fixed-wing, single-engine T-28 that was built in 1958. The accident occurred during Martinburg, West Virginia’s Thunder over the Blue Ridge air show, and the aircraft was a part of the T-28 Warbird Aerobatic Formation Demonstration Team. The aircraft had flown past another aircraft and there was no contact between the two; however, the one aircraft immediately plummeted to the runway killing the pilot.

Were these accidents preventable? Is there a need to end air shows due to the dangers and risks associated with them for both the pilots and the spectators? Should there be more strict regulations on the types of modifications and maneuvers these pilots can perform? These are just some of the questions that have been surfacing following the tragic accidents this weekend. An initial report from the NTSB is expected by the end of this week with preliminary information regarding the crash in Reno.

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