The Reno Air Races have a legacy, and it’s not quite tied to the unbelievable speed in which pilots do their best to whip planes around a course. No, the legacy has more to do with safety issues. In 2011, an incident involving a highly modified P-51 Mustang killed eleven people total, including the pilot, when the aircraft’s trim tabs failed, sending the Mustang crashing into the runway at over 400 miles an hour in front of a grandstand of viewers. Since that accident, the NTSB and Reno Air Racing Association have made strides in safety, but to be quite blunt about it, there is always going to be strong risk factor when it comes to racing planes. That risk factor got put on public display on Friday, September 14th, 2018, during Jet Heat 2B. As you watch the video, note the battle for third place between Alexandre Eckmann in Race 37 and Nathan Haranagel’s Reality Czech aircraft. Both of the Aero L-39 Albatros jet aircraft were hard-charging, but the close racing, coupled with somewhat windy conditions, saw the jets touch wings towards the end of the heat. Both Eckmann and Harnagel immediately climbed for altitude and put out Mayday calls, and when Eckmann’s jet landed the damage was immediately visible: part of the right wing was gone, and there was damage to the vertical and horizontal stabilizers visible as the L-39 taxied in from the runway.
Both pilots did exactly what they were supposed to do and neither one was injured. One thing I always remind people who don’t have deep knowledge of how aircraft work is that you’d be amazed how little of an actual structure there is. Maybe the 777 you flew on has some girth to it, but small planes and helicopters have to be light and strong, and that means that even a tiny brush with something is a serious cause for concern. There’s very hidden damage among what you can see in the video and things could’ve ended much worse than they did.