After over thirty years of trying, I was finally able to get to the Reno Air Races this year! I flew from Houston to San Francisco, then rented a car and drove with Henry, a friend--and an experienced Reno Air Race fan--from Seattle that I've been causing trouble with since the seventh grade. It was great to have him there to show me all the little tricks. Like buy the entrance passes for the whole week on the first day, but buy pit passes on the days you need them. That way you don't waste money on a pass you're not going to use...or waste an opportunity to see something else because you feel obligated to use the pit pass you paid for. And buy souvenirs early because the selection gets picked over VERY quickly.
With race speeds reaching 500 miles per hour, the Reno Air Race is dubbed "the fastest motor sport in the world" (eat your heart out, Nascar!). But Reno is so much more than just a race, or series of races. Between races there are airshow acts ranging from small prop planes to jets; there is always something to see in the air. And for those who appreciate old and restored airplanes, the static displays are fantastic also.
Of course, the real reason we're here is the photography, so without further ado:
Here's a self portrait I took in the propellor of a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, the same type of airplane Amelia Earhart was flying when she made her ill-fated flight around the world:
There were some beautifully restored Beech 18's there as well:
Of course, the racing is what it's all about, and there was plenty of that by airplanes from several different classes: Biplanes, Sport, T-6's, Jets, and, the racers everyone comes to see, the Unlimiteds. The unlimited airplanes are fighter planes from World War II that, in most cases, have been highly modified through aerodynamic changes and installing higher powered engines than they had when they left the factories back in the 1940's.
The races this year were safe for the pilots, but that is not to say all the equipment survived intact. The engines are run extremely hard during the race and malfunctions are not uncommon. I witnessed two "maydays" in which the airplanes had malfunctions serious enough to require an emergency landing. The first was in the first race I saw, a T-6 heat in which the airplane "Six Cat" had a connecting rod come apart and punch a hole in the bottom of the engine, causing it to seize.:
The second mayday was on Saturday, the day before the much-awaited Gold race, when the Hawker Sea Fury "Race 232" flown by former astronaut Hoot Gibson emitted three backfires as she passed the home pylon right in front of the crowd. Hoot immediately pulled up to bleed off airspeed and configure for landing. Here's the airplane before the flight--note how clean and streamlined the top of the cowl is right behind the propeller.:
Here she is about the time of the "event:"
And here she is after. Note the damage to the intake section on top of the cowl (the lower cowl sections have been opened, but the one on top was definitely damaged when the old girl backfired):
Finally, Sunday rolled around and the race everyone was waiting for: the Unlimited Gold race. Here are the airplanes starting up in front of the crowd:
And here is the winner, Voodoo, piloted by 26 year-old Steve Hinton Jr: