Plane In Reno Crash Had 'Radical' Changes To Compete - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Plane In Reno Crash Had 'Radical' Changes To Compete

MSNBC.COM - The World War II-era plane that plummeted into an air-race crowd like a missile bore little resemblance to its original self. It was rebuilt for speed, if not for stability.

The 65-year-old "Galloping Ghost" underwent years of massive overhauls that took a full 10 feet off its wingspan. The ailerons — the back edges of the main wings used to control balance — were cut from about 60 inches to 32.

Pilot Jimmy Leeward had said the changes made the P-51 Mustang faster and more maneuverable, but in the months before Friday's crash even he wasn't certain exactly how it would perform.

"I know it'll do the speed," he said in a podcast uploaded to YouTube in June. "The systems aren't proven yet. We think they're going to be OK."

Investigators don't yet know what caused the plane to pitch sharply into the crowd at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, killing nine people, including Leeward, and injuring dozens. They have focused on the "elevator trim tab" — a piece of the tail that helps the aircraft maintain lift and appeared to break off before the crash. While investigators did not identify the items, the National Transportation Safety Board released a photo late Sunday of two board officials at the crash site with items they said were part of the investigation.

Over the coming days, the NTSB will likely study footage that came from the Galloping Ghost's onboard, outward facing camera. The camera tracked the plane's engine, position and other data, and transmitted it to the racing team on the ground, the Los Angeles Times reported. Memory cards that may have come from the plane were also found at the scene. >>>CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM MSNBC.COM

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