Reno Air Race 2019 - Stihl National Championship Air Race 2019

The Secret Heroes of the Reno Air Race in Nevada

Jennifer Weitbrecht
02.10.2019
25 pictures
6 minutes

Like every year in September, some 200,000 aviation enthusiasts flock to the Nevada desert, 15 kilometres north of Reno. The destination of their journey? The Stihl National Championship Air Races at Reno Stead Airport, also known as Reno Air Races, which are among the last big aircraft races in the world. A great event awaits all visitors with breathtaking air races of various classes: Biplane, Formula One, Sport Class, T-6, Jet and Unlimited Class. There are two different circuits marked with pylons.

This year the WingMag team didn’t miss the spectacle and was on site for you – and we brought this picture gallery with us. Have fun!

The origin of the Reno Air Race

The first pylon races in history took place on a circuit in 1909 at the Reims Air Meet in France. A perfect opportunity for manufacturers and pilots to compete with others, which led to rapid technical progress in aviation.

The origin of today’s Reno Air Races goes back to 1964, when the first National Championship Air Races were held at the Sky Ranch in Reno. The race was founded by Bill Stead, double hydroplane champion and farmer from Nevada. From 1966 until today the venue has always been the Stead Air Force Base at 1,500 meters altitude. The founder tragically crashed on 28th April 1966 in St. Petersburg (Florida) with his Formula One aircraft.

And here we go – “Gentlemen, you have a race”

Every flight day is introduced with the American national anthem. Already this moment is enough to give many visitors a thrill of anticipation. But this will not be the only emotional moment. Tears of joy, heart-throb excitement are guaranteed at this spectacular event!

The air is tingling before every race. Then the excitement rises as the pilots go to the starting point. The participants start individually and gather in the air behind the so-called “pace plane”. The pilot of this plane starts the race for the participants with the words “gentlemen, you have a race”.

Pure adrenalin

It is hard to imagine what it actually feels like in the historic airplanes during a race. Not everyone is made for flying so close to the ground at speeds of more than 960 km/h and correspondingly high G forces. However, it is not permitted to go below a certain minimum height, as ground contact in the past had sometimes fatal consequences. If a pilot’s eye level falls below the letter “R” of Reno on the start/finish pylon, this leads to disqualification [LC1] in the current race.

The overtaking manoeuvres are also among the particularly exciting moments of the race: It is only allowed to overtake on the outside, whereby the overtaking pilot must never lose sight of the slower aircraft. This, in turn, must not hinder the manoeuvre.

Since the older aircraft are heavily modified and require a lot of maintenance, technical problems often occur. If a pilot gets into trouble, he/she has to leave the racecourse by first climbing up out of the range of the other airplanes and then moving to a suitable landing position. Depending on the problem, the pilot can also get support from the “Pace Plane”, which still circles above the racecourse.

The detailed rules of the race can be found under this link.

Flying sport up close

It’s not just the sporting performance that makes the Reno Air Race so special. Above all, it is the community of enthusiasts: rivals on the racetrack, friends on the ground. They know and help each other. The event is almost reminiscent of a big family reunion –the tradition comes alive and history is revived.

Fans are not excluded from this family either. If you like, you can experience at firt hand the flying,two-legged stars at close quarters. The pits of the racing teams are open to visitors and you can watch the mechanics at work – a very special honour that does not often come your way as an aviation enthusiast. They are pleased about the interest of the spectators and are happy to answer any questions. With a bit of luck, you yourself can even get in one or the other machine on the ground and imagine the indescribable feeling in the air.

The heroes behind the scenes

The historical and sometimes very rare aircraft, most of which date from the 1930s and 1940s, were often inherited within families and many of them are worth several millions. Everyone is proud of their own flying piece of jewellery – and of course likes to show it. A very time-consuming undertaking.

It is therefore not surprising that each participant arrives with a large team. All members take care of their special aircraft almost lovingly: cleaning, polishing, repairing, servicing. Self-knitted covers and the one or other stuffed toy decorate the flying treasures and prevent dirt from entering through the various openings. It is fascinating how many hours, or rather days, are spent in the care and maintenance of the aircraft. Especially when you consider that they are only a few minutes in the air.

With so much effort, all the helpers have earned a place in the spotlight. And that’s what they get! Each participant is immortalized by name on “his” airplane. Everyone who is lucky enough to be part of the winning team, can even drive past the spectators together with the pilot on an old fire engine and enjoy the moment of fame. The secret heroes in the “spotlight” of the hot Nevada sun.

Pilots and Showcases

In addition to the main event, many other attractions are offered: Various air shows, military demonstrations, displays of rare, civil and military aircraft as well as various sales stands – Stead Airport turns into a huge folk festival every year and inspires the whole family.

The supporting programme includes a demonstration by Jim Peitz with his Bonanza. This airplane is actually known as a small and fast travel airplane. Only a few of this type are approved for aerobatics. All the more spectacular is his show for insiders: Jim draws hot loops, hammerhead turns and fast low passes in the sky with the “smoke” trailsby. The speaker warns the pilots among the spectators again and again: “Don’t do that with your own Bonanza…”.

As a foretaste for next year, STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) planes of various types and colours were presented as well. They will start in a new class at the Reno Air Race in 2020.

The spectators also experienced special moments of excitement during the flight demonstration of the US Air Force with their “Thunderbirds”. This flight demonstration  will get an article with picture gallery all to itself.

by Jennifer Weitbrecht

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