Our new crew member, Matt Jackson, is not only a race pilot, aircraft
business owner and aircraft owner (he also takes care of Tom Cruises P-51)
but he is also the VP of the Unlimited Racing Class and head of the Safety
We had a long talk about the Reno crash on the way to Mojave today.
Matt believes the cause of the crash was due to The Galloping Ghost having a
CG too close to the aft limit which resulted in pitch instability. There are
instructions on the P-51 regarding no combat missions with the aft fuel tank
full resulting in an aft CG problem. Instructions specify to empty the aft
fuel tank first in flight.
During qualifying Matt watched Galloping Ghost from inside the cockpit of
Furias and could not believe how much trouble Leeward was having in keeping
the Ghost in a stable pattern around the course.
Since Leeward lives in Florida and the Galloping Ghost was modified for
racing in Calif., when Leeward picked up the Ghost for the Reno races at the
last minute, a complete flight test program had not been done based on
There is a video of the entire last lap of the Ghost before the crash which
Matt showed me. As Leeward was coming around pylon #8 at about 480 mph after
passing Rare Bear, he hit turbulence which pitched his left wing down,
Leeward corrected with hard right rudder and aileron. Just as the aircraft
was straightening out, he hit a second mountain of turbulence which caused
the tail to 'dig in' resulting in a 10+ G climb rendering Leeward
unconscious instantly and resulted in the tail wheel falling out. (broken
tail wheel support structure was found on the course). As the Ghost shot
upward the LH aileron trim tab broke loose. This can be heard on the tape,
so the trim tab did not cause the accident.
Since the Ghost was racing at 480 mph with full right rudder and the stick
full right, this is where everything stayed when Leeward blacked out.
Cockpit camera film that was salvaged from the wreck shows Leeward slumped
over to the right in the cockpit. As a result, the Ghost climbed up and to
the right, rolled over on her back and then headed for the box seats. Most
in the box seats never saw it coming because it came in from behind them.
Matt has had long conversations with the NTSB who call the accident a
'fluke'. They are not going to recommend canceling future races. He has also
talked to the insurance companies covering the races for Reno and they also
say they are not going to cancel their coverage of future races. Now we wait
for the FAA to make a decision.
Ironically, Matt had bought box seats tickets for his good friends who stayed
with him for a few days before the races. They were the husband and wife who