Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

50 Years Of Championship Air Racing

“Fly low, go fast, turn left” is every racing pilot’s mantra

As the photo shoot ended on Sunday's final race, the swarms of fans were let loose onto the field to embrace their 2013 champion, Steven Hinton and #5 Voodoo.
At 0800, the engines begin to crank over. The field begins to rumble as the sounds of the props turn. The crews man their planes, the pilots focus their gaze on the day's objectives, and the spectators watch as their favorite planes take to the skies for that one time every year when they race each other. Six classes prepare for the four days of intense pylon flying. As the light makes its way across runway 26, the ramp clears and the flag is dropped. The race is on!

For 50 years, the people of Reno, Nev., have been neighbors to one of the greatest aerial events since World War II. Air racing began with point-to-point challenges, cross-country trips and 'round-the-world treks, each pilot trying to beat the previous pilot's time and engulfing themselves in glory by adding their own name to the history books. By the 1920s, the races were moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and from then on were known as the Cleveland National Air Races. For almost 30 years, a series of different events were held, testing numerous areas of aerodynamics, including the first Women's Air Derby. However; after a P-51 crashed in 1949 killing three people, the races were shut down. Fate smiled upon the aviation world in 1964, when the races were reborn as the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev.

Before the final Unlimited Gold Race began, the crews gathered in front of the grandstands with their aircraft, wishing each other luck on the upcoming race.

Two very special guests at this year's races could practically be called locals. Marilyn Newton and Aaron King have been coming to the races for 50 years! Both photographers and fans, they've enjoyed every moment of spine-tingling excitement of the hundreds of aircraft that have gone around those pylons and have grieved for those pilots that didn't make it back. King said that his two favorite years were 1964, when the races came back, and 1966, when Stead Army Air Base was transferred to the city of Reno and became Reno-Stead Airport. Although a lot has changed since Cleveland and the early days of Reno, their passion will always lie with the planes.

Out at the pylons, we watched the afternoon races begin (left) as the T6s of Saturday's Bronze Class race jumped onto the course during their formation start. Later that day, the Jets of Heat3a (center) gave us a good show as the L-39 #25 Violated passed the TS-11 Iskra #03 Pole Dancer. In the end, it was Dennis Buehn in #43 Midnight Miss III (right) who celebrated with his crew after his win in Sunday's T6 gold race.

As the morning continues, the racing picks up after heats from the Formula One, Biplane and Sports Classes start and finish. Each class has its own course around the pylons, varying in distance, the smallest being for the Formula Ones at 3.1875 miles and Biplanes at 3.1761 miles, and the longest for the Unlimiteds and Jets at 8.1034 miles. For the pilots, it's the same thought process for any distance: fly low, go fast and turn left.

By 0900, the crowds of people start to pour in through the main gate as they take to the grandstands to watch their favorite planes come by. Each section has its own unique group of people, like Section 3, that all wear orange shirts and can be seen a mile away."

Fans of section three (left) celebrate their favorite planes and pilots. Mike Houghton interviews pilots (center) Steven Hinton, Bill "Tiger" Destefani, Matt Jackson and R.A Bob Hoover. The attention wasn't just on the Unlimiteds this year, as the Biplane Class put on quite a show during each of the heats (right).


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