The recent plane crash at a Reno air races show has led people to question whether the races are safe enough for spectators. Last Friday, eleven people were killed, including the pilot, when a souped-up World War II-era plane crashed into the crowd during the National Championship Air Races. The crash also injured dozens of others.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash to try to figure out what caused it. It is believed so far that a piece of the plane’s tail called the trim tab may have broken off, which caused the plane to first shoot skyward and then plunge down into the spectators.
Pilots make adjustments to their planes to make them go as fast as possible, sometimes up to 500 miles per hour. At that speed, the smallest defect can become a big structural problem. Planes are inspected before the races, but it is not clear that a problem with the trim tab could have been noticed. The Federal Aviation Administration oversees the races and ensures that the inspections occurred, but the planes and the pilots’ health are inspected by the Reno Air Racing Association.
The pilot whose plane crashed on Friday was 74-years-old, but he had passed a medical check-up in March 2010, which was good for two years. Investigators are looking into whether the pilot’s age or health might have been a factor in the crash, but they may determine that the cause was a mechanical failure in the plane.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Reno crash underscores safety concerns,” Michael Mishak, Paul Pringle and John Hoeffel, Sept. 17, 2011