Memory Cards Yield No Information On Last Month's Air Race Crash


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Memory Cards Yield No Information On Last Month's Air Race Crash

By Shane Nolan

October 22, 2011 - Last month an experimental a vintage P-51D Mustang, N79111 crashed following a loss of control while maneuvering at Reno Stead Airport, Reno, Nevada, air race. The NTSB has reported they had removed a memory card from the on-board telemetry unit of the accident aircraft and were unable to retrieve any on-board video from the badly damaged components and memory cards found in the debris field. 

Additional telemetry data that was transmitted from the accident aircraft to the race crew on the ground is also still being examined. The NTSB investigators continue to review the dozens of videos and hundreds of photographs provided to them by spectators at the air race. 

On September 16, 2011, an experimental North America P-51D, N79111, impacted the ground following a loss of control while maneuvering. The airplane was registered to Aero-Trans Corp, Ocala, Florida, and operated by the pilot as Race 177.

The commercial pilot was killed and the aircraft was destroyed. Casualties on the ground included 10 fatalities and 74 injured. Eight of the injured were hospitalized. The vintage P-51D Mustang was participating in the Reno National Championship Air Races in the last event of the day.

The airplane had completed several laps and was in a steep left turn towards the home pylon when, according to photographic evidence, the airplane suddenly banked momentarily to the left before banking to the right, turning away from the race course, and pitching to a steep nose-high attitude.  

Witnesses reported and photographic evidence indicates that a piece of the airframe separated during these maneuvers. After roll and pitch variations, the airplane descended in an extremely nose-low attitude and collided with the ground in the box seat area near the center of the grandstand seating area. 

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration examined the wreckage on site. They documented the debris field and identified various components of the airplane?s control system and control surfaces. The wreckage was removed to a secure storage facility for detailed examination at a later date. 


The airplane?s ground crew noted that the airplane had a telemetry system that broadcast data to a ground station as well as recorded it to a box on board the airplane. The crew provided the ground station telemetry data, which includes engine parameters and global positioning satellite system data to the NTSB for analysis.  

The onboard data box, which sustained crush damage, was then sent to the NTSB?s Vehicle Recorder laboratory for examination. Investigators recovered pieces of a camera housing and multiple detached memory cards from the airplane?s onboard camera that were in the debris field. The memory cards and numerous still and video image recordings were also sent to the Vehicle Recorders laboratory for evaluation.

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