Reno Air Races

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Aerial view of Reno Stead Airport, looking due south, during Reno Air Races, early morning, September 12, 2014
Voodoo P-51 Mustang 2014 Unlimited Gold Champion
XRP 51D Mustang: Precious Metal, 2014 Reno Air Race

The Reno Air Races, officially known as the National Championship Air Races, is a multi-day event tailored to the aviation community that takes place each September at the Reno Stead Airport a few miles north of Reno, Nevada. Air racing is billed as "the world's fastest motor sport" and Reno is one of the few remaining venues. The event includes performances by a series of stunt pilots and acrobatic demonstrations and features racing around pylons at low altitudes upon a fixed race course.[1][2][3]


Static Aircraft on Display at the 2014 Reno Air Races

Begun in 1964, the Reno Air Races feature multi-lap, multi-aircraft races among extremely high performance aircraft on closed ovoid courses which range between about 3 miles (Biplanes and Formula One) and about 8 miles (Jet, Unlimited) in length per lap. The chief organizer is the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA).[4]

The first Reno air races, in 1964 and 1965, were organized by World War II veteran Bill Stead. They took place at Sky Ranch airfield, a dirt strip barely 2,000 feet (610 m) long, which was located in present-day Spanish Springs. After Stead Air Force Base (20 miles to the west, and named in honor of Bill's brother, Croston Stead) was closed in 1966, that field was turned over for public use, and the races have been held there since then.

Aircraft in the Unlimited class, which consists almost entirely of both modified and stock World War II fighters, routinely reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour. In 2003, Skip Holm piloted Terry Bland's modified P-51D Mustang, Dago Red, and reached an all-time Unlimited class speed record of 507.105 mph in a six-lap race around the eight-and-a-half mile course. The recently added Sport Class racers, mostly homebuilt aircraft, are already reaching speeds in excess of 400 mph. In 2009, Curt Brown set a record of 538 mph on his jet-engine L-29 Viper.[5]

The Reno Air Races include several days of qualifying, followed by four and a half days of multi-aircraft heat racing, culminating in the Unlimited Class Gold Race on Sunday afternoon. The event also features civil airshow acts and military flight demonstrations between races, plus vendor areas and a large civil and military static aircraft display.

When the crash disater happened in 2011, the crowds have thinned down slightly. The races had a lower budget for the vendors in 2014 and 2015.

Classes and requirements[edit]

RareBear Run Up, 2014 Reno Air Races


In spite of the name, the "Unlimited Class" racers do have a few restrictions placed upon the entries. Each aircraft must have piston driven propeller engines, and this class can pull up to 6 G’s during the racing. Apart from having to operate within those few requirements, this class is, in fact, unrestricted.[6]

The aircraft are allowed to use fuel blends and nitrous oxide injection. Unlimited class participants are powered by the Griffon/Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12’s or Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major, and most of the airframes are highly modified World War II fighters. Their airspeed often exceeds 500 miles per hour on portions of the 9.128-mile race course.[7][8]

T-6 lineup at the 2014 Reno Air Races


Wing tip to wing tip 2014 Reno Air Races

This class follows a set of guidelines in order to compete. Aircraft eligible to compete must be one of three different types (all are variations of the same model) of World War II trainers – AT-6, Harvard’s, or SNJ’s. Entries are required to use the 650 HP, nine cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp radial engine and are not allowed to increase the displacement of their powerplant, yet are allowed to "blueprint" the engine. The crews may fill open seams as well as wax and polish the aircraft to make them aerodynamically cleaner. The teams are allowed to remove the rear seat, reducing the overall weight. The racers who compete in this class on a 4.990-mile race course create some of the tightest competition seen at the annual event.[7]


This class must also comply with rules that regulate the size and power of their craft. Biplanes must have a minimum dry weight of 500 pounds, at least 30 percent of the required 75-square-foot wing area must be contained in the smaller of the two wings, non-retractable landing gear, a fixed pitch propeller, and the largest engine permitted is the 360-cubic-inch, 180 HP Lycoming engine.[7]

The racers utilize the same 3.1608-mile race course as the Formula One's and similarly utilize a "race horse" start. The biplanes are very agile and tend to do a lot of upward and downward maneuvering while they race at speeds approaching 200 mph. A very exciting class, the biplanes are considered by many to be the closest of all classes with the differences between first and third place measured in mere fractions of seconds.[9]

Formula One[edit]

This class must conform to a specific set of guidelines in order to compete. All aircraft must adhere to the following requirements: a minimum dry empty weight of 500 pounds, non-retractable landing gear, a minimum wing area of 66 square feet, a fixed-pitch propeller constructed of either wood or composite materials and a 100 HP 200 cubic-inch Continental engine. Formula 1 Class air racing was introduced at the Cleveland Air Races in 1947 with the intent to enable pilots to design, build and race their own planes at an affordable price. Because of these features it is a very popular class of air racing for pilots to compete in, with many very competitive entries. The Formula 1 class has several races across the country throughout the year, with Reno serving as the site for their National Championship and their biggest purse. At Reno, the race course distance covers 3.1068 miles.[7][10]

50 Zlín Z-50 N-50ZL Sport Class pilot Jessy Panzer


This class, created when in 2010 the race organizers combined the "Super Sport" and the "Sport" classes,[11] is open to production kit-built aircraft powered by a reciprocating engine with displacements of 650 cubic inches or fewer.

Aircraft must have a current FAA Airworthiness Certificate. Pilots are required to have at least 500 hours of flight time-in-type, and be EAA formation flight certified to participate in a race. Lancair Legacy, Glasairs and RV aircraft all have over the years seen the checkered flag for class wins.[7][12]


Jets at Reno Air Races

In 2002 the Jet Class was created as an invitation-only class, featuring match racing in Czech-built Aero Vodochody L-39 "Albatros" jets, racing at speeds in excess of 500 mph.

In 2004, the Class was opened to allow participation by any qualified pilot and aircraft.

In 2007, the class was further expanded to allow participation by any non-after-burning jet with less than 15° of wing sweep such as the Fouga Magister, North American T-2 Buckeye, Lockheed T-33, etc.[13]

2014 race results[edit]

Unlimited Gold[edit]

T-6 Gold Start 2014 Reno Air Races
  • 5 Steven Hinton, Jr., Chino, California. plane: "Voodoo" P-51D Mustang — 462.926 mph

Jet Gold[edit]

  • 8 Phil Fogg, Tualatin, Oregon. "Fast Company" L-39 — 495.244 mph

T-6 Gold[edit]

  • 43 Dennis Buehn, Fallon, Nevada. "Midnight Miss III" — 239.163 mph

Sport Gold[edit]

  • 39 Jeff LaVelle, Mukilteo, Washington. "Race 39" Glasair III — 398.960 mph

Bi-Plane Gold[edit]

  • 10 Jake Stewart, Benbrook, Texas. "Bad MoJo" Pitts S-1 — 225.022 mph

Formula One[edit]

  • 11 Steve Senegal, San Bruno, California. "Endeavor" David Hoover AR-6 — 252.09 mph [14]

Prior Unlimited champions[edit]

2013 Unlimited Gold[edit]

  • Steven Hinton, Jr., Chino, California. Plane: "Voodoo" P-51D Mustang — 482.074 mph

2012 Unlimited Gold[edit]

  • Steven Hinton, Jr., Chino, California. Plane: "Strega" P-51D Mustang — 493.299 mph

2011 race canceled[edit]

2010 Unlimited Gold[edit]

  • Steven Hinton, Jr., P-51D Mustang “Strega” — 473.437 mph

Significant participants[edit]


Steven Hinton, Jr., 2014 Reno Air Races champion

† fatality during race



Before 2011[edit]

From 1964 through 2010, 19 aviators lost their lives due to crashes and collisions in the course of the competition and airshow.[15] In 2007, three pilots died over the course of four days in separate incidents: Gary Hubler, Steve Dari, and Brad Morehouse.[16] Racing was suspended for one day after the last of the three incidents.[17][18]

2011 crash[edit]

On September 16, 2011, a heavily modified P-51D Mustang named "The Galloping Ghost," piloted by Jimmy Leeward, crashed near the stands during the Gold Heat of the race, killing Leeward and ten spectators, and injuring 69.[19][20][21][22] Race organizers cancelled all remaining 2011 races after the accident.[23]


A race plane crashed on the course during qualifying Monday, September 8, 2014, at 3:16 p.m., killing the pilot, during a Sport Class heat race.[24] Sport Class founder and pilot Lee Behel, 64, was flying in a single-engine experimental GP5 when it appeared to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure and crashed at the north end of the racecourse.[25]


  1. ^ "Celebrating 50 years of the Reno Air Races". Reno Gazette-Journal. September 16, 2013. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ "FAQs". The Reno Air Racing Association. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  3. ^ "National Championship Air Races". Visit Reno Tahoe. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
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  7. ^ a b c d e
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  15. ^ "Fatal Accidents associated with the National Championship Air Races". 2011-09-17. Retrieved 2011-09-17. 
  16. ^ Reno Air Races end with plane crash
  17. ^ Two Planes Collide at Reno Air Races retrieved 9-14-2007 from Fox News
  18. ^ Officials: air races to resume Saturday
  19. ^ "Reno Air Races crash death toll remains at 11". Reno Gazette Journal. September 21, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Plane Crash at Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport". KTVN News. 2011-09-16. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  21. ^ "Vintage plane crashes into crowd at Reno air races". MSNBC. 16 September 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ "3 people dead in Reno air race crash". CBS News/AP. 2011-09-16. Retrieved 2011-09-16. 
  24. ^ Air Races: 1 dead in plane crash at Reno-Stead Airport
  25. ^

External links[edit]