July 31, 2007

Stunt pilot Jim LeRoy, featured at Davenport Air Show, killed in crash

Yet another incredibly talented and brilliant stunt pilot has lost his life in the risky pursuit of pushing aerobatics to the limit.

Jim LeRoy adds fluids to his Bulldog bi-plane before his recent performance at the Davenport Air Show. (click to enlarge)

Jim LeRoy, just recently featured in the coverage of the Davenport Air Show on this site, died after his Bulldog stunt plane struck the ground and errupted in flames at an airshow in Dayton, Ohio. LeRoy hit the ground at 200 mph after failing to pull out of a loop.

The Bulldog at the Davenport Air Show

Firefighting units responded immediately and LeRoy was cut out of the plane and evacuated in a Blackhawk helicopter but pronounced dead at the hospital. The local coroner reported that he died instantly, breaking his neck upon impact.

LeRoy lost his two partners in the "Masters of Disaster" aerobatics team just two years ago when they collided over an airshow in Saskatchewan Canada. LeRoy, though in the air at the time, wasn't involved.

In addition to being a world-class aerobatics pilot, LeRoy was also a former Marine, and an aeronautical engineer, graduating from the University of Illinois and had worked as a design engineer for GE aircraft engines previous to becoming a stunt pilot.

LeRoy leaves behind a 4 yr old son. Truly a tragic loss.

The Dayton Daily News has a slide show of the incident here. Links to video, slideshow, and diagram of how the incident occured as well as related stories from the paper HERE, and an article describing eye-witness accounts is here.


At 8/01/2007 8:40 AM, Blogger Peter said...

It's pretty amazing how even the best pilots can't do anything at a certain point because these machines aren't perfect. All for entertainment too, what a waste..

At 8/02/2007 6:29 AM, Blogger The Inside Dope said...

True enough, Peter, but it's not ALL the machine. After all, if the machine could do it all, there'd be no challenge or skill required.

And of course, the planes are gone over with a fine-toothed comb before every performance. That's not to say that there can't be mechanical failure of course.

It may turn out that the plane performed flawlessly. It would be very unusual for a pro such as LeRoy to misjudge a maneuver that he's done thousands of times, but then again, if you saw him and other stunt pilots doing their thing, you know that they come VERY close to the ground, and at very high speeds, sometimes after having spun around about a dozen times, or inverted. It looks absolutely impossible and reckless, but of course, they have every move planned, mapped out, and practiced a thousand times.

But you have to also bear in mind that this isn't like NASCAR where four fat tires are in contact with the pavement. This is performed in the air. Thin air, so to speak.

As such, you're not only dealing with pilot skill, and as you say, the structural design and strength of the plane itself, but you're dealing with the weather, in particular winds. Even the temperature is critical, as warmer air is less dense and provides less lift.

While it would be surprising if it contributed to this accident, the fact remains that there are sudden downdrafts, weird gusts, etc., and when you're performing with such miniscule room for error. After all, after plunging several hundred feet and hitting 200 mph plus, only 15 ft or so is the difference between amazing the crowd and dying.

A downdraft or windsheer could spell disaster if they strike at the exact wrong time.

I don't know if I'll think to try to find the official report on what contributed to this accident in a few months or however long it will take, but I'm curious what they'll find.

At 9/07/2007 10:13 PM, Anonymous Sue;ShedAp Puhleeez said...

I heard the news of Jim Leroy's death from my airplane nuts brother, whom with I attend many an airshow. All I could say to him was that cliche: he died doing the thing he loved...
and the word "doing" falls way short of Leroy's engagement of talent, hard work, imagination, and shear exuberance in his skills, which is why he'll be painfully missed, along with the other "Master's of Disaster".
True American Spirit...from Kitty Hawk to the moon in a very short 100 years!
That same spirit can find solutions to our problems in this Country...Boy do we need that spirit now! 'cause the fear-mongers would "ground" us all.

At 10/08/2007 7:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I Love You Jim

At 11/09/2007 2:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was one of Jim's Pole holders at the Quad City show this year. Jim was my hero, when i first saw him fly at QCAS in 04 and once he put Bulldog into a hover I looked at my dad and said I want to be just like him. When I heard that Jim passed on AirShowBuzz.com I was heart broken. In August my dad and I drove to the Du Page County Airport to go to Jim's Memorial Service thats how much he had an effect on me.


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