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Plane that crashed at Reno Air Race underwent radical changes before race

Bryan Alaspa's picture

The P-51 Mustang that crashed into the stands at a Reno, Nevada, Air Race did not look much like the actual plane that flew during World War II due to radical changes to make it faster.

The plane flew in the air races Unlimited class race. Those in that class are vintage or replica vintage World War II planes that have been modified for speed. Planes in that class often reach 400 to 500 miles per hour.

According to media reports, the plane that Jimmy Leeward flew on Friday had been altered from its original state for speed, rather than stability. A full 10 feet had been taken off of its wingspan, for example. The ailerons, which are the back edges of the main wings and are normally used to help keep a plane balanced, had been cut from 60 inches down to 32 inches.

Leeward gave an interview to the press days before the race that killed him and nine others on Friday. During the interview he confessed that he felt the plane would go fast, but that all of the alterations had yet to be fully tested.

Right now investigators into the crash do not know what it was that caused the plane to go out of control and crash near a grandstand. Many people have been studying videos and photos. One photo caught the plane nose-down as it was about to strike the ground right in front of the box seats in front of the grandstand. It shows no pilot in the window. Many have wondered if that means that pilot Leeward was passed out and hunched over the controls.

The NTSB is reportedly looking for footage captured by the plane’s forward-facing and outward-facing onboard cameras. The cameras track the plane’s engine and other key components that provide valuable information about the status of the aircraft.

In a podcast months before the race, Leeward stated that five feet on each wing had been lopped off. He also described many of the changes to his aircraft as “radical” although he was unwilling to give away exact details.

The NTSB is also looking at footage that appears to show a potentially key section of the tail missing from the plane moments before it crashed.

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