It didn’t take long after the airplane was invented for pilots to decide they needed to race them. As early as 1909 in France and 1910 in the United States, daring aviators took to the skies to race their flying machines.
Fast forward to 1964, when a Nevada rancher, Bill Stead, organized an air race in the desert just north of Reno, Nevada. Soon after, the races moved to Reno Stead Airport, which had been named in honor of Bill Stead’s brother, Croston, in 1951. The National Championship Air Races have since grown to an event attracting more than 200,000 spectators.
The only closed-course pylon racing event in the world, the Reno National Championship Air Races, features a large display of static aircraft, world-class military and civil flight demonstrations, and six racing classes.
Aircraft displays and demonstrations
Flying with power and grace, jet formation teams perform high-speed passes and aerobatics, exhibiting skill, precision, and speed. Always a crowd favorite, jet formation displays are a thrilling combination of loops, rolls, spins, and passes with planes sometimes flying within 3 meters of each other – and all at speeds over 500 mph.
For the Reno National Air Races 2015, the world’s largest professional civilian performing jet team, the Breitling Jet Team from Switzerland, thrilled the audience with their unique formations and graceful acrobatics. In addition to watching air races and jet formation team performances, Reno National Air Races attendees can stroll amidst static aircraft and enjoy both civilian and military flight demonstrations each day.
Six racing classes
Aircraft from six different classes race throughout the week with a schedule that includes several days of qualifying, followed by four and a half days of heat racing.
The T-6 class includes single-engine aircraft used to train pilots during World War II and into the 1970s. They are known by a variety of names based on the model and operating air force. With race speeds up to 230 mph, the T-6 class includes the AT-6, the SNJ, and Harvard, and races over a 5.065-mile course.
The Biplane class races on a 3.313-mile course, with the agile aircraft regulated by size, weight, and power. Known for their frequent maneuvering and close race finishes, biplanes race at speeds approaching 200 mph.
The sport class races high-performance kit-built aircraft on a 6.968-mile course at speeds reaching nearly 350 mph.
Racing on a course of 3.175 miles, the small Formula One aircraft can reach speeds over 200 mph. They must have a minimum wing area of 66 square feet and an empty weight of 500 pounds or more.
Racing at speeds in excess of 500 mph, the jet class planes take off before the race begins, following a pace jet as they line up in formation for the race start. The jets fly the course in a counter-clockwise direction, always making left turns around the pylons.
Always a crowd favorite, the Unlimited class flies in speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour, typically with stock aircraft or modified WWII fighters.
The class gets its name from the few requirements placed on the aircraft and the class is allowed to use fuel blends and nitrous oxide injection.
If you go…
- Get a pit pass. Pick up a pit pass to get an up-close experience with the pilots, planes and crews as they ratchet up plane performance before heading out to race.
- Bring sunscreen & a hat. There is little to no shade at the air races so reapply sunscreen often.
- Stay hydrated. At 5,046 ft in the desert, it is very hot and arid at the Air Races. While the concessions offer a wide variety of beverage choices, water is the best drink to stay hydrated.
- Book a hotel in Reno. The Reno-Stead Airport is located about 8 miles north of downtown Reno.
- Race and ticket purchasing information can be found on the National Championship Air Races website.
Dedicated to Lt. Colonel Ernest L. Faulkner
Throughout my life, we rarely passed an airbase, no matter the state, without my father telling us a story of when flew in there.
My father, Lt. Colonel Ernest L. Faulkner, was a test pilot and flight instructor. When he was transferred to the Independence, KS airbase during World War II, he met a clerk, Evelyn, that issued him officer’s equipment. The two were married for 62 years.
Watching the Air Races brings back his many stories of piloting everything from an AT-6 to a B-29. Stories of flying a plane through a barn; a plane catching on fire then crashing in a field in Georgia; “borrowing” planes when he was in Texas to gosee Mother in Kansas. And, the list goes on.
Special thanks to him, and to all of the men and women that have served, and continue to do so. Miss you Dad.
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