The National Championship Air Races are held at Stead Airport, north of Reno Nevada. The event, known popularly as the Reno Air Races, (shortened even further, by die-hard visitors, to "RENO") will be held this year (1997) on September 11th through 14th. Qualifying for this years event begins on Monday, September 8th. (Note: This year, 1998 the races will be held Thurs-Sun Sept 17-20) As far as air racing goes, this is the premier event of the year. The potential this year for more unlimited class airplanes than have been seen quite some time, may well make it the event of the decade!
.........So..... just what *is* Reno all about? .........
At first glance you might simply dismiss this event as just another air show with some racing mixed in, ladies and gentlemen.....this "ain't" no ordinary air show! Mere words can't begin to capture, what is, the Reno experience. To be sure, you can see vintage warbirds at about any good air show .... but Reno is the only place where you see these classics in all their glory. These machines of war were meant to be flown, and flown hard. The men and women that race these planes have heard this calling, and take it very seriously! But there's something else afoot at the Reno event. You can sense it in the performers attitudes. This is the air show performers show of shows! Even the military fly-by pilots take the affair very seriously, sometimes diverting many hundreds of miles to give the spectators and performers a quick look at their aircraft. No question, the Reno event is special and unique in all of aviation!.
To lovers of vintage aircraft, theres nothing that can compare to the sleek lines of WWII fighters or the awesome presence that they command. The sounds of a Rolls Royce V-12, or one of the huge radial engines at full war power, or in some cases nearly TWICE full "war" power, defy description. The designers and builders of these weapons of war had but one idea; for these aircraft to represent the best of their breed. This spirit is carried on......in the "warfare" held annually at Reno!
And "warfare" it is! The competitors are true professionals. The skill and determination of the pilots and crews, make for competition that is as fierce as it gets!! While the unlimited class racers are arguably the stars of the show, there is certainly much more racing action going on. Some of the fiercest competition goes on in the Formula 1, Biplane, and T6 class racing. But this is the fastest motorsport around, and I'd have to admit my favorites fly in the unlimiteds. I can think of no other sporting event that takes you literally to the edge of supersonic". Lapping the race course with speeds well over 500 MPH on the backstretch, (also known as the valley of speed) this isnt a walk around the park!
The racing alone would make a very complete aviation event. But by no means is that all that Reno is about. Some of the finest aerobatic demonstrations seen anywhere, are always a big part of the show at Reno, as well as the many military aircraft on display, both in the air and for static viewing. Add to this the sights and sounds of the classic warbirds of yesteryear, and you have what we feel is an event unparalleled by any sport. While you can see this event on television, much delayed and condensed, you can not begin to get the full flavor of this event sitting in your easy chair. This is one show that must be experienced first hand. Take it from someone who always wished he could be there, and finally had the chance to be a part of it. Theres nothing that can even come close to replicating the thrill and excitement surrounding RENO. Come rain or shine, flood or famine - for that matter hell or high water, as long as I live and breathe Ill keep going back to recapture that Reno experience.
All this and more, is what Reno is about. The flying of warbirds as they were meant to be flown - Teamwork, professionalism, competition, the desire to achieve and go beyond your limits - as well as making new friends and reminiscing of days and races past. Its one heck of a great week.
Next time, I'll fill you in on some of the hot racing facts and rumors that Ive been gathering. Some of them are true, others just make the anticipation that much greater. I can say this much for sure - this years event will be one not to miss!
Cya in the pits!
(FlightLine staff photographer, Mark