The footage below is from the cockpit of pilot Thom Richard and his Hot Stuff race plane at the National Championship Air Races in Reno last weekend. The sport is already considered one of the most dangerous in the world, but as you’ll see, sometimes accidents can happen before one even takes off from the runway.
This is scary as hell.
Based on the pilot’s account, it appears there was some miscommunication after his engine malfunctioned.
Richard describes what went wrong and how things unfolded in the video description:
We were number four on the starting grid, which was the middle inside position with three aircraft on the front row, one to our right and three behind. Upon running the engine up in anticipation of the start, about 20 seconds before the green flag drop, the engine was not running well enough for flight, as you can hear from the audio, never mind racing. I made the decision to shut the engine down to signal the starters to halt the starting process. The flagman on my row put his hands in an ‘X’ over his head, as our procedures prescribe, and I opened my canopy to make it clear I was out of the race and so everyone could see me. The alternate airplane was signaled to taxi on to the runway to replace my entry. I felt confident the communications had reached the appropriate people and waited for personnel to push me off the runway.
However, much to my surprise, I saw the flagman run out on to the runway waving his hands over his head as if something was wrong. The aircraft to my right started rolling and a few seconds later the number six and eight aircraft flew by me on either side. All I could do at that point was hope the number seven (center) aircraft would clear me on the centerline to my right.
The impact was violent and loud. His left leading edge shaved off the top several inches from my vertical and skimmed the turtle-deck without touching until it impacted my right hand holding up the canopy, at well over sixty miles an hour. The left landing gear hit the top of the gull-wing center-section, blowing a hole in the top skin and impacted the rear face of the front spar so hard that it broke the landing gear clean off his airplane. The propeller sliced three evenly spaced gashes about mid span of my right wing, about a foot apart. The right landing gear sheared the wing off just short of the right wingtip. The impact spun me around nearly 180º, like a teacup ride at warp eight.
The other plane never took off either, coming to a rest a few hundred feet in front of Richard. It had a damaged wing and a torn propeller. The pilot had no injuries.
If cats have nine lives, air racing pilots have at least ten.
Josh Helmuth is the editor of Crave Sports.