At least one person was killed when one of the most popular airshow attractions on the circuit, Shockwave, an old semitractor unit propelled by jet engines, crashed during an act at the Field of Flight airshow in Battle Creek Michigan on Saturday. Chris Darnell, 40, the driver of the truck, was identified as the deceased. Shockwave was owned by Darnell Racing Enterprises, which was founded by Darnell’s father Neal.

The video shows the truck racing two aircraft down the runway and a pyrotechnic device that was part of the show detonated as the truck passed by. The truck then appeared to lose control and explode. “He was doing his show and going down the runway,” said Suze Gusching, media relations for Field of Flight. “He passed by the explosion, and his truck had exploded.” 

Shockwave sported three Pratt & Whitney J-34-38 engines producing a total of 21,000 pounds of thrust. They were used in Navy T-2 Buckeyes. The company’s website says the trucks could hit 350 MPH and local news sources are saying the accident occurred at about 300 MPH. It was one of three similar vehicles operated by Darnell Racing Enterprise based in Springfield, Missouri. The other two are the Aftershock Jet Fire Truck and the Flash Fire Jet Truck. The show was suspended and local authorities are investigating.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve attended many airshows and NHRA/PDRA drag racing events featuring jet cars, but I have never seen an event with a vehicle intentionally passing through an area of exploded pyrotechnics or ordnance. A ground vehicle entering a disturbed area is an insane idea. I mean, c’mon: we’re talking about vehicles exceeding 300MPH, and as such and by design, require the smoothest (“laser-leveled”) ground surfaces and a minimal amount of turbulence.

    Having personally witnessed race cars go airborne, I ask “who in their right mind would have sanctioned such an event or demonstration?”

    • It didn’t. The pryos are off to the side, between runway and spectators, so it looks like it goes through from the spectator’s perspective.
      Besides which, it is clear the trouble started before the pyros fired.

  2. He doesn’t drive through the pyro fireball. It’s between the runway and the camera in this video. A video from another angle shows the truck bursting into flame before he gets abreast of the pyro fireball. The pyro was not a factor.

  3. What I see slowing down the video and putting on a large screen, it that it seems normal until his drag chute comes out. then it begins to yaw and departs from control. It appears to flip sideways with parts “horizontal and vertical tail pieces” departing and begins pirouetting horizontally then flipping and rolling down the runway. It is only after this initial yaw that I see any fire from the truck itself. Most video is taken at such an angle that it looks like he is in the “pyro” fireball. But he is not.

    Also all the YouTube hero’s that show the “pyro” fireball as their preview photo, with a headline “Airshow Crash” needs to slow down their keyboard a little and think first. I know “views” means money but accuracy means more.

  4. Look for a YT video by “midas bizmart” for another angle. (Use a playback speed of .25) Fast forward to 53 seconds. The drag chute was deployed but partially formed. At 54 seconds, there appears to be an unscheduled and uncontrolled fire (fuel line rupture?) trailing the vehicle. The chute became engulfed by the flame, went limp, and dropped to the surface.

    The pyro display was to the left of the runway, and from this angle, appears to not be a contributing factor.

  5. At about 6 seconds into the video, you can hear a “pop” as or after the driver deploys the drag chute. If you slow the video down to .25 speed, you can see smoke starting to come from the back end of the truck. Just as the truck is about to pass the pyro explosion, you can see the start of a fire. The fire gets bigger and the truck appears to skid and then roll to the left.

    Hard to tell what generated the “pop” noise due to the distance between the truck and the person doing the videoing (the noise of the chute being deployed or something else?), but one thought that comes to mind is that one or more tires on the left rear side blew (causing the “pop” noise and the smoke).

  6. Well I guess this ends the jet fueled Shockwave as an airshow attraction.
    But future airshows will feature the environmentally friendly Shockwave…
    3 electric motors with no noise and minimal carbon footprint.
    I can’t wait.

  7. He was not racing warbirds. The airplanes involved were a Zivko Edge 540 piloted by Bill Stein, and a MXS-RH piloted by Rob Holland. These are planes designed for aerobatics. Anyway, the truck apparently had a mechanical failure (maybe tire) of some sort and starts to slew before even appearing to go behind the pyrotechnic display. I believe that the truck was at the Hill AFB airshow (Ogden, UT) last weekend. The driver had been interviewed and the truck shown on local TV before the airshow. I remember thinking that this is stupid as it served little purpose other than converting jet fuel into noise and flames. In my opinion, the pyrotechnic displays which use dynamite and a copious amount of gasoline are also serve little purpose other than make noise, heat and smoke. Anyway, not my style of entertainment but I am not in my early teens anymore.

  8. In what universe does it seem to be a good idea to run the tractor of an 18-wheeler along at over 300 mph? Most race cars that go much slower than that are aerodynamic, with a low center of gravity and tires built for the speed. A big truck is the opposite of that in every way. Even Daryl Greenameyer, who used a jet engine in his “Green Monster” to attempt breaking land speed records would have laughed at the idea of strapping two engines to a big truck. To me, this is the logical and most likely outcome of this kind of stunt. I’m sorry the driver was killed, but not really surprised.

  9. He had a speed record on this truck of 376 mph? What tire is rated for that speed? Actually what modified (ground down) truck tire is rated for that 300 mph? Seems like to much show and not enough know.

    • Back in the 90s, I heard Les Shockley answer the tire question after the show at Pt. Mugu. Turns out he was running standard Michelin truck tires. The limiting factor for high speed running is based on temperature, and the air show runs just weren’t long enough for the tires to overheat.

      [He also claimed that Michelin did NOT approve!]

  10. Les Shockley ran the Shockwave truck at airshows in the 90s. Jet trucks have been running in exposition classes at dragstrips even longer, and cars, decades longer still. Their overall safety record, like that of other jet-powered land vehicles, is actually pretty good. This wasn’t a “stunt” in any sense, just as aerobatics flown by professionals are not “stunt flying”. Chris Darnell’s effort was completely professional. But the faster you go, the less it takes for even a small glitch to have serious ramifications. Prayers for his family and friends.

  11. First, condolences to Darnell’s family and everyone involved in this event. Not surprising, something like this has happened before. I was at an airshow on Cape Cod in 2001 when a jet powered Lincoln Navigator crashed in a similar way: https://www.southcoasttoday.com/story/news/state/2001/08/06/air-show-performer-injured-in/50337220007/ Being >20 years ago, I’m not 100% certain on the cause of that accident, but I think it was either an issue where only one of 2 chutes deployed properly (anchored off-center), or an issue with a wheel/tire. Doesn’t show up in NTSB database as it wasn’t exactly an aviation accident.