Between Sept. 14 – 17, Reno’s 43rd National Championship Air Races & Air Show was held at Reno Stead Airport (RNO). If you missed it, you missed airplanes rolling in over the desert sagebrush at 350 mph, propeller tips breaking the sound barrier, the slingshot-boomerang effect of pylon racing, and the smell of the oil smoke trail left by the airplanes.
Billed as “the world’s fastest motor sport,” the event features high-performance aircraft flying multi-lap, multi-aircraft races on closed courses around 40- to 75-foot pylons. All the aircraft in the six categories have three things in common: they fly low, they go fast and they turn left. Before the races began, there were several days of qualifying events, followed by a week of multi-aircraft heat racing, culminating in the Unlimited Gold race.
The week saw winning grins and gremlins, with Mike Brown and his Sea Fury, September Fury, winning the Unlimited Gold race, with an average speed of more than 481 mph. Bill “Tiger” Destefani, flying a modified P-51D Mustang, Strega, came from dead last up to second place within the first three laps. Unfortunately, Destefani declared a Mayday when his engine failed on lap five. He landed safely but ended up finishing in eighth place. Matt Jackson’s Sea Fury, Dreadnought, finished second with a speed of 453 mph. Sherman Smoot’s Yak, Czech Mate, finished third.
Another gremlin struck during the Sport Gold race. John Parker’s Thunder Mustang challenged Rod von Grote’s Lancair for five laps, but dropped back due to engine trouble, letting Jon Sharp’s Nemesis NXT into second place. If that wasn’t enough, von Grote cut a pylon during the race, on lap 1. Sharp was declared the winner, with a speed of 360 mph, and von Grote took second place.
In the Jet Gold race, John Penney won in Pip Squeak with a speed of 470 mph. Rick Vandam came in second in American Spirit over Phil Fogg in Ultra Hog. The race had to be shortened to four laps when the pace plane lost its canopy on takeoff.
The Unlimited Silver race pitted Dan Vance’s Sea Fury, September Pops, against C.J. Stephens’ Sea Fury, Argonaut. In this very tight duel between heavy metal, Vance won with an average speed of more than 405 mph, and Stephens finished just a few seconds behind him. Ron Buccarelli’s highly modified Griffon powered P-51D Mustang finished third.
In the Unlimited Bronze race, Robert Odegaard flew his very rare F2G Super Corsair. A crowd favorite, this was the first time Odegaard’s Super Corsair saw race action since the 1949 Cleveland Air Races, where it came in third in the Tinnerman Trophy Race and won the Thompson Trophy Race.
Odegaard was clawing his way from the back of the field, and it looked like he was on his way to winning, but the Super Corsair’s engine developed problems on lap five and he dropped out of the race. Dave Morss won the race with a speed of 344 mph in Polar Bear, a P-51A Mustang. Brant Seghetti’s P-51D, Sparky, finished second and Jim McKinstry’s Yak finished third.
In the T-6/SNJ Gold race, Nick Macy flew Six-Cat to a win at 235 mph. Dennis Buehn finished second at 229 mph in Midnight Miss lll. Warlock, flown by veteran race pilot Al Goss, the crowd favorite and number one qualifier, developed engine problems earlier, and didn’t make it into Sunday’s race.
The races reached an exciting peak when Gary Humbler won his fifth straight Formula I Gold title in Mariah with a speed of 257 mph. David Hoover came in second only three seconds behind in Endeavor and Charlie Greer finished third in Miss B Haven.
Tom Aberle won Biplane Gold in Phantom with an amazing speed of 251 mph, more than 30 mph faster than second place finisher Jeff Lo in Miss Gianna. Stephen Brown finished third in Tonopah Low ll.
The event featured the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. During the three-day event, the six-person team flew a 40-minute show. There were civil air show acts between races, plus vendor areas and a large civil and military static aircraft display.
This event, a Mecca for those who have a need for speed, lured some famous aviation personalities. This year, several well-known aviators were among the 250,000 people attending the event, including John Travolta, Carroll Shelby, Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan and Bob Hoover.
For more information, visit [http://www.airrace.org].