As usual, the news media is doing a terrible job on the continual reporting of the Reno crash. There is a modicum of fact and the remainder of their reports, articles, and videos contain unsubstantiated conjecture and a lot of opinion. Most of the reports were written and produced by people who have never held the control stick of an aircraft between their thumb and fingers.
What has always been irritating about the media is that when it comes to reporting on aviation, particularly accidents, none of the reporters has any real expertise. Consequently, the phrase, “They really don’t know what they’re talking about,” truly applies.
It would not be so bad if they would seek professional aviators for comment. Sometimes they do, but unfortunately, most of the time, the aviator won’t say what the reporter wants to hear for his or her slant to the story. So, they write it the way they wish regardless.
The consequence of their actions is a frightened public, which remains ignorant regarding anything to do with flying. For many, aviation and airplanes remain nothing more than the big jets of the airlines or the fighter and attack jets of the military.
What many will never realize, because of the poor reporting of the media, is that flying is no more dangerous or complicated than other activity. Because of the news media’s sensationalism of crashes, many believe flying is very difficult and dangerous—which, it is not.
Flying is only as dangerous as those engaged in the process. In other words, if a pilot is dangerous, flying with him or her might be hazardous. Most pilots, however, wish to live forever. As a result, this tends to keep them from taking excessive risks.
This is something that most journalists fail to realize. In the world they have created in their minds, pilots are swashbuckling F-14 jocks, regardless of the airplanes they fly. The reporters are disappointed to find many pilots are ordinary schoolteachers, firemen, college students, and on occasion, the proverbial little old lady.
Flying follows the laws of physics and math. Because it does, flying is perfectly pure. It is, if you are not paying attention, very unforgiving of mistakes. This is one reason pilots enjoy the honesty of flight. Pilots take pride in not making mistakes.
Last Friday, Jimmy Leeward did not make a mistake. He, along with the others who died that afternoon, was the victim of the laws of math and physics.
It was an accident.
As he was coming around and trying to catch up to the lead Mustang, the trim tab on his aircraft, The Galloping Ghost, failed somewhere above 450 mph. The trim tab is an extremely important component of the empennage. It basically holds the elevator in place at a given speed. In the case of a Mustang traveling about 450, it holds the elevator down. If it were to come off the airplane at high speeds, the nose would pitch up violently.
Interestingly, other P-51 Mustang pilots have recorded similar incidents, only at lower speeds and higher altitudes. This allowed them to survive their ordeals. Aerodynamic loads, especially at high speeds can be very dangerous when a piece of the airplane falls off.
When the tab came off The Galloping Ghost, the nose pitched up hard and fast to about 60 or 70 degrees nose high. The airplane then began a high-g barrel roll that ended just in front of the grandstands.
Sometimes, there are risks you have to assume as a pilot. We don’t go out thinking we’re going to die on a particular flight, but the possibility is always there. It is an assumed risk we’re willing to take—because we love what we do so much.
Most of the time, working as a pilot is the same as any other job. Lots of boredom. Some work stress, derived from company policies and co-workers. And oh yes, a great view out the front office window, that is always changing.
Beats working for a living.
In the minds of many pilots, it is worth the risk.
To Jimmy, and all those who perished last Friday, rest peacefully.
©2011 J. Clark
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