http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OYe1hlfSB0 - Dad's favorite race. Watch Merlin's Magic edge out Howard Pardue for 1st place in the 1996 Unlimited Silver race.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this terrible tragedy. We race and perform for our fans and, now, we grieve for them and their families. We extend to all of them our most sincere heartfelt condolences and sympathies. We are working, and will continue to work, with groups and organizations from all over the world to do everything we can to console and comfort all of those involved."
The tragic crash of Galloping Ghost which killed pilot Jimmy Leeward and a number of fans sitting in the box seats ended Reno early. The memories of the crash and thoughts of how it may impact air racing in the future are almost impossible to put aside. The crash occurred on the 3rd lap of the Unlimited Gold Race. It was a fast race (490 MPH+) and very exciting as Galloping Ghost moved up the field, passed Rare Bear and started in on Voodoo. The plane was on course heading for the home pylon when it lurched up, rolled over on its back and then came down at high speed. When it hit, there was no fire, but it exploded into a large white and gray cloud - you have probably seen the photos. The photos of the plane coming down clearly show the elevator trim tab missing.
The timing of the crash is incredible - it had to occur in a very small window of time - just a few seconds. Anywhere else on the course and the plane would have hit desert.
Racing was going well for both Merlin's Magic and Archimedes through Friday. Bill raced Merlin solidly in the Silver. With a number of the faster planes such as 232 and Furias pulling out, race #22 would have crept well up the line for a good 2011 finish.
Friday's Bronze run was both a race and somewhat of a test flight for Archimedes. I kept loose in the join up prior to coming down the chute so that I could keep an eye on the gauges. As I came up to race power and RPM - everything was solidly in the green. The governor on loan from Dennis Buehn worked well. I started in 5th and passed two others to finish in 3rd....
And then the crash. I called a number of friends including Bob Davies who were already at or on their way to airports such as LAX to head to Reno. I told them to turn around.
We headed out to the airport early Saturday morning only to be turned away - no one allowed on the field. I called Lori Crown who was waiting near the gate – she would call me if anything changed. We headed back up Lemon Drive to McDonalds where we waited. By the time we finished our egg mcmuffins and second round of coffee, Lori called - pilots and crews were allowed on the field.
Everyone knew what to do and went to work. The pits that were our home for the last week started to come apart. EZ-ups came down, the bar rolled into the trailer, t-shirts and spare parts loaded into the mini van, chairs stacked and calls to eat all the extra food. T6 was put back in stock condition in record speed (tail wheel, weight, air box, tape, etc...).
At around 10:30, Fred Telling and Pierre called for a meeting in the T-6 club house. They conducted a thorough briefing passing down notes from RARA and sharing advice as to how to help everyone cope. Fred called for a minute of silence. Tom Dwelle commented that he had driven up to donate blood, but the hospitals turned him away as they seemed to have enough.
We were then told that the airport would open at some point and that we would probably be allowed to depart. The NTSB had decided to release the planes by type in the following order – Formula, Bi-plane, Sport, Unlimited, T6. All communications on 133.3.
And then we started the long wait. It was frustrating and stressful to watch the hours tick away as the planes taxied out in trickles. The runway remained unused for hours at a time. My goal was to get the T6 back to Livermore and make it to Oakland in time for an afternoon flight home - not to be. Dad was allowed to launch at around 4:00 PM.
Finally, word came that the T6's could go. I was first out – taxied up the center line of 08 and ran up just short of 32. As I climbed over the pits in a left downwind departure the tower confidently announced, “see you next year.” Although he could certainly not know if that would happen, his assurance felt good. Continued the climb to 10,500' up and over Truckee and Squaw Valley. I kept the power up a little and got to Livermore in about an hour. Dad and Bruce were waiting in front of the hangar and had the plane stowed away in just a few minutes. While they were parking the plane, I peeled off my flight suit and transferred my bags from the plane to dad’s pick-up. Thankfully, I made the last flight out of Oakland.
[and to think that many of my fellow racers face journeys all the way across the country].
It has now been a week since the abrupt ending of the races. The crash has been front and center on the internet and continues to make the nightly news. We have all started back into our normal routine. But this year has a real feeling of incompleteness – everyone (especially me) was so focused on quickly cleaning up and scattering that the proper thanks and good byes never happened. This feeling is strengthened with the thought that the future of air racing is in question.
Following the crash of Galloping Ghost, just about everyone now knows about the Reno Air Races. Many are curious as to what they are all about. It is impossible to describe in a few sentences what Reno really is. So I hope in the next couple paragraphs I can explain why the races are far more than a once-a-year gathering to fly fast, fly low and turn left around a bunch of pylons. And this also gives me a chance to recognize and thank many who join us year after year.
For the pilots, crew and everyone else in the pits, the Reno Air Races are a focal point of the year. I do think the races are the most thrilling aviation event in the world. But, more importantly, they are an annual reunion of friends that have become our Reno family.
The interesting part of this reunion is that it is as if we never left each other. When we see each other, there are certainly some quick hugs, hand shakes and catching up. But, without a word, the routine has already begun. From the moment I land and taxi into the pits, Mike walks up with a cold bottle of Ribo-Zip. Rick has his hand out for a hand shake, but his mind is on the plane and how quickly he can get it torn down for inspection. Larry and Bill have smiles and a warm welcome, but they start to pace around the plane complaining about the bugs and oil. In the pits, the RV and trailer are staged. The bar has been rolled out and a bowl of chips is already in place. Lori rolls up in a golf cart with my arrival envelope.
The race week has begun. The “real world” fades away and, for the one week out of the year, we comfortably start up a language that is only spoken within this Reno family. Voodoo, Strega,the gold, manifold pressure, the join up, the chute, T6, P51, Sea Fury, unlimiteds, the pits, the grand stands, home pylon… This is a universal language. When Taichi (Japan) and I meet up for the first time, we talk slowly when trading notes about family and home…but the conversation picks up tempo when we start to “speak Reno”.
The briefings begin and mornings get earlier and earlier. This is made easier with our drive through Starbucks even though they can never figure out Rick’s order of “Venti half caff with cream”. Throughout each day there are a number of additional reunions - past friends who we would have otherwise never seen again. When they arrive, Mom leaves Judy to work the shirts solo to give them a warm welcome and tour of the pits. 5:00 PM signals that the beer cooler is open. The noise of the day is now quiet and the pounding sun has begun to set over the pits. We gather up around and keep the conversation going.
Dinner plans are often made for us – Tuesday is the T6 party, Thursday is the annual sushi crew dinner. But mostly it’s a huge burger and a basket of fries called the AwfulAwful.
A normal race week ends with the dinner banquet and trophy ceremony. The dinner is long. Everyone is exhausted and parched from a week of sun and wind. Toasts are made, final pictures are taken. We know this is the start of the good byes. And for the most part… we have had enough …until next year. But Reno 2011 was cut short. We were not yet exhausted, we had more racing in us, we had not yet finished our reunion.
So I need to recognize and thank many others who are part of our Reno family:
Rick Johnson – Archimedes crew chief and overall great guy. And Debbie for letting us have Rick for the week... and for enthusiastically handing out the trading cards.
Taichi and Sayoko – all the artwork you have provided (shirts, side of plane, etc…). For coming all the way from Japan for the races.
Mike and Eleanor Barrager - feeding us all with amazing food, sheltering us from the sun and keeping the Ribo-Zip cold and flowing.
Bill Sims and Larry Davie – first to the T6 each morning to get it ready for racing.
Mike Whetzel – you have more time on Merlin’s Magic than anyone.
Ryan Imlay – there for both planes.
“Truck Driver” Bill Haskins – consistently one of the hardest workers and still always smiling.
“New Zealand” Judy Keen – shirt sales and for your special version of the English language. Ye !
Jay Niemi– always smiling and ready with a funny story. Perhaps we will need those new flags yet.
Jim Masura – the first to tackle the unpopular jobs like cleaning the belly of the plane.
Wimp Post – for storing the trailer during the year and your overall support.
Darren Murray – for surprising us each year with a new personal story that you have been keeping secret.
Bob Davies – for hosting this web site and your consistent showing. Sorry you had to make a U-turn this year.
Bruce Anderson – always ready to help with anything.
“Duck” Bob - for hauling the trailer.
Mike Harlow and son – for your generous help with our helmets and oxygen masks.
Bob Earnes – for your contribution this year.
AUA Insurance – for your sponsorship and overall enthusiasm
Special thanks to Lori Crown for taking care of us all and to my fellow racers and crews who helped keep Archimedes flying this year.
I don’t know a better way to end this update than by copying an email and photo received from Taichi. We had not seen him or his daughter Sayoko following the crash and were worried.
Hello again Jim,
We were at the so-called "Outer Pylon", outside of the course, next to the valley of speed at that moment.
We watched Jimmy's final dive to the ground for about two seconds, but too far to hear the crash sound. That was very fortunate for us, especially for Sayoko, that we were not too close to the tragedy.
We went back to the media entrance quickly, but when we arrived there, we could go into the very limited area, biplane pit and media center only, and then pit area were closed, so we could not visit you any more.
We visited the main gate on Monday morning just before we're leaving Reno, we put roses there and prayed for Jimmy and other victims. It is very sad to say good bye.
Please keep in touch,
Some additional photos:
Archimedes is hogging all the work over the last 36 hours. During a practice start, I could not keep up with the flight while coming down the chute. A quick glance at the tach showed that the prop was overspeeding. I aborted and immediately landed. Oil covered the side of the plane. We thought the worst. Gut-wrenching feeling. We started preparing to pull the engine and keep the plane in a hangar for the coming months.
Rick works at pulling the screen - tight space, hot oil, plenty of sharp metal. Thanks Rick.
Checking the screen - no metal - very good sign.
Bill qualified Merlin's Magic at 383.385 MPH putting the plane in a solid "Silver" position. Chased down a hot-oil temperature and hydraulic leak - otherwise, all good.
You can follow the races at www.airrace.org and click the "Search Race Results" button at the bottom right.
The following photos are from the first few days of the races. We flew the planes over the Sierras on Saturday. The weather radar showed lots of thunderstorms, so I headed all the way North to Chico before turning East. Most of the weather had disipated by then. Pictured below are some remnants. Dad made a straight course for Stead and had no problems.
Bill Simms all smiles as he cleans a panel.
Jim M. repairs a number of popped rivets. I don't think Jim has taken a single break over the last several days.
Archimedes is pulled into the hangar and awaits tech inspection.
Archimedes Crew Chief Rick Johnson awaits his baby as it gets checked by the tech inspectors.
This is the set-up at the end of each day. Snacks & beer (mom has wine of course). From left to right - mom, Larry, Bill Simmms, Jim M.
Dad led the Unlimited Pylon Racing School (PRS) and flew Doug Mathew's T33 during the graduation flight. Photo courtesy of Bruce Anderson.