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Reno air races to modify course; 2011 crash killed 11 people

May 22, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • This handout image provided by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the modified 1944 P-51 Mustang just before it crashed at the Reno Air Races.
This handout image provided by the National Transportation Safety Board… (Handout/AFP/Getty Images )

A year after a crash killed 11 and injured more than 70, the Reno Air Racing Assn. is planning to modify its race course to keep its fastest planes away from spectators, officials said Tuesday.

Association director Mike Houghton said the group will ask federal regulators for permission to shift the largest course away from the crowd and to soften some of the curves. Houghton made his announcement as a panel appointed by the group released its list of safety recommendations.

The association will hold its 49th annual National Championship Air Race beginning Sept. 12 at Reno Stead Airport. During last year’s race, Jimmy Leeward, 74, crashed his World War II-era P-51 Mustang into the box seats in front of a grandstand. Leeward and 10 spectators were killed and more than 70 people were injured in the Sept. 16 accident.

The crash was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, which found that the plane, named the “Galloping Ghost,” had been modified to increase its speed. The board issued seven safety recommendations, focusing on race course design and layout, pre-race technical inspections, aircraft modifications and airworthiness.

In January, the Reno racing group appointed a panel of its own; that panel's formal recommendations were released Tuesday. Four or five of the recommendations follow the NTSB preliminary recommendations, officials told the Associated Press. The panel asked that plane inspection procedures be formalized and suggested more study on establishing age limits for pilots.

The group has already appointed a safety director with the independent authority to halt the competition. The association named Michael Stollings, a former supervisor of flying for the U.S. Air Force with nearly 40 years of aviation experience, as the safety czar.

Last week, the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority's board of trustees voted unanimously to renew the special use permit needed for the race. The renewal was contingent on the group following all safety rules and getting $100 million in insurance.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com   

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