Air Race Crash Black Swan Update

September 20th, 2011

I predicted that the two air race crashes in two days would spawn some type of black swan legislation.

From the Times:

The fans were already anticipating new regulations. Would officials try to move the race to a less populated area? Would they place the course farther away from the stands?

But they dismissed those options. Moving a course a mile or two away would hardly matter given the speed of the planes, they reasoned. And being farther away from the city would only increase the risk of spectators getting into car accidents, they said.

The only opening for change may have to come from pilots themselves, said Dennis Gleason, 70, a retired plane mechanic who spent years working for Boeing. The pilot of the plane that crashed, Jimmy Leeward, was 74 and an experienced stunt pilot. Still, Mr. Gleason said, pilots should consider creating a self-imposed age limit.

“You can lose some of your sharpness, some of your reflexes,” Mr. Gleason said. “Those maneuvers are sharp and precise. I’m sure he was an excellent pilot, but you can’t help but wonder if he was alert enough to notice the smallest mistake.”

But not everyone wants a change:

But the crash did not deter the fans, who came to the memorial with a steely somberness. It was a freakish accident, they said, a one-in-a-million thing. Attending these races is dangerous, sure, they said, but so is driving. What should change? For the most part, they replied, absolutely nothing.

“The show must go on, even with something this tragic,” said Anna Marie Murphy, 44, who has come to the races since she was a child, when her family had a passion for building and flying small planes. She knew eight people who died in plane accidents, including her aunt and uncle, she said.

“I know that people die in this,” she said. “I don’t want it to happen, but I know I have to accept it might. And anyone who comes here better know it, too.”

The NTSB is conducting an inspection.

Popular Mechanic has a summary of recent air race accidents:

When disaster strikes, it is almost always lightning-fast, like it was today. In 2002, the tail section of a P-51 named Miss Ashley II came off during the first lap of an unlimited race. The aircraft disintegrated, killing the pilot, Gary Levitz. In 2007, Brad Moorehouse was flying an L-39 Albatross military trainer when he hit another plane’s wake turbulence, rolled twice, and crashed into the ground. That same year two Formula One planes collided while rounding a pylon, killing one of the pilots, Gary Hubler. In 2008, pilot Erica Simpson was doing a roll during a pre-race evaluation flight when the wing came off her Cassutt IIIM monoplane. The plane came apart and she crashed in the desert.