The 54th annual National Championship Air Races were held at the Reno-Stead Airport this last week. The event went from Wednesday, Sept. 13 to Sunday, Sept. 17, and featured dozens of events, from jet races to aerobatic stunt plane shows.
Started in 1964 by Bill Stead, the Reno Air Races have been held every year since, except for 2001. In 1966, the races were moved to the Reno-Stead Airport when the military air base closed and became a public airport.
The races have drawn a crowd well over 100,000 for the past 10 years, and this year was no exception, although an official number of attendees has not been given.
There were six different race classes with a bronze, silver and gold race for each class. On top of the 18 races, and qualifying races, there were several civil and military air shows this year. The “Texas Flying Legends Museum” showcased six WWII era planes. The pilots of these planes were not only highly skilled and pushed their 70 year old planes to the limits. “Betty’s Dream”, a B-25J bomber, executed high speed turns and recreated bombing runs similar to ones it would perform during WWII.
Another rare aircraft was in attendance at the air show on Sunday— the low altitude fly by of a B-2 “Spirit” bomber. A single B-2 costs around $2 billion. There are only 21 in existence, and fewer than that actively flying today. The B-2 is unique in that the entire body of the plane is a wing resembling one of Batman’s batarangs. Those who got to see the B-2 fly over the airfield this weekend got a once in a lifetime opportunity to see one of the the most expensive pieces of military equipment being used by the U.S. today, rivaling the cost of some of the aircraft carriers used by the Navy.
There were no crashes this year, but there were several emergency landings. Sunday morning one plane’s prop clipped the wing of another plane while getting in position before a race forcing both to land. No one was hurt during the collision. Andrew Findley, flying a sport class plane, also had to perform an emergency landing one lap into the Sport Class final race due to his engine overheating. Findley had the second best qualifying time going into the final race.
The main event was the Unlimited class gold race. Only two of the planes were competitive this year: Voodoo and Strega. During the six lap race, the two planes overtook almost every other plane racing. As they lapped their competitors, it became more about positioning and maneuvering around one another rather than pure speed. Pilot Jay Consalvi piloting the WWII P-51 fighter plane “Strega” won in the end, only tenths of a second ahead of his opponent. This will be the thirteenth win for “Strega” and its 34th year racing.
Rick Vandam won for the Jet Class race in “American Spirit”. Jeff LaValle won for the Sport Class in “Race 39”. John Lohmar won the T-6 Class in “Radial Velocity”. Lowell Slatter won the Formula One Class in “Fraed Naught”. Andrew Buehler won the Bi-Plane Class in “Phantom”.
Joey Lovato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.