General Yeager retired from active duty with the Air Force in 1975 at the age of 52. He continued as a consultant test pilot and continues to do so. He is 88. He does his best to stay in good health and still has a current medical for military flying.
If flying high performance aircraft, General Yeager always has a co-pilot or IP (military language for “instructor pilot”).
His last job on active duty was as Director of Safety. He does not race and does not like seeing P-51s, 68 year old aircraft, being stressed beyond their capabilities. He does not like seeing one of his favorite planes auguring in.
He does not like seeing the P-51 modified. Especially without authorization or oversight. The P-51 helped turn the tide of World War II in the Allies favor. It helped establish air superiority during World War II. It did it’s job well. You can’t improve on that.
Racing these airplanes does not advance aviation. Nothing you can do in a P-51 hasn’t been done before including a smoking hole.
General Yeager and others HAD to fly close to the edge in World War II. It was war. Why would anyone do it who doesn’t have to?
And at the same time, when he sees an accident we have heard General Yeager graciously say, There but for the grace of God….
While all the information we have re the 2011 Reno Air Race accident is second-hand or more, this is a possibility of what may have happened. It is speculation since no one will ever really know what happened.
Questions: Why did the nose pitch up so quickly and extremely?
Why did it then nose over and head straight for the ground without pulling up?
Why did the pilot not jettison the canopy and jump out?
Did the pilot’s modifications cause structural failure?
Were they FAA approved?
Was the pilot wearing a G suit?
The pilot had modified his P-51 to a shadow of its former self to try to make it lighter to get more speed to win the race. So it’s structure, one that did well during World War II, is compromised.
The pilot had to trim the airplane nose down – required for high speed. The trim tab on the horizontal stabilizer becomes overstressed and breaks off. (Had it been modified, too?)
This causes the plane’s nose to pitch up so fast that the plane goes straight up pulling probably 5 g’s. The pilot probably blacks out. The plane eventually stalls and heads straight down.
If the pilot regains consciousness, he is disoriented – no time to correct the situation and/or jettison the canopy and jump.
During the Reno Air Races, during this crash, General Yeager was visiting with members of the 449th Bomber Group from World War II for their reunion banquet.
That evening, the Oak Ridge Boys, a very patriotic group, showed up (a surprise) to honor these veterans, sang a great song, G.I. Joe and Lilly, a World War II love story; also one of service and sacrifice.
After dinner, General Yeager gave a talk honoring these veterans for whom he has all the respect in the world flying in those sitting ducks to bomb the enemy, doing their duty, protecting and serving their country.
In one bombing run during World War II, General Yeager saw 60 bombers shot down by flak – that’s 600 airmen. This group lost 25% of their men. Another 25% had been shot down but survived.
And these veterans were grateful to P-51 pilots like General Yeager, who protected the bombers. General Yeager’s 357th Fighter Group also suffered great losses while shooting down the most enemy aircraft, serving and protecting their country, doing their duty.
There but for the Grace of God…