Although the fifty-second National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada—arguably the world’s premier air racing event—officially opened Sept. 16, a new record had already been set at the event.
On Monday, Sept. 14, pilot Tom Aberle set a new speed record in the Biplane class flying Phantom, a modified Mong Sport, clocking a speed of 284.454 on a qualification flight.
Qualifications began Sept. 14 at Reno-Stead Airport and the races officially opened Sept. 16. The race program ends with the Unlimited Class highlight, the Unlimited Gold race, scheduled for 4:10 p.m. local time on Sunday, Sept. 20.
Turnout has been high among racers this year. The Jet Class, fastest of Reno’s six race classes, has tallied a record 19 race airplanes this year. The Sport Class has 37 competitors.
Stewart Dawson of Celina, Texas, was fastest in qualifying for the popular Unlimited category. He flew flying modified F8F-2 Bearcat Rare Bear at 480.644 mph. Close behind was Robert “Hoot” Gibson of Murfreesboro, Tenn., in P-51D Mustang Strega at 475.043 mph; five-time defending Unlimited champion Steven Hinton of Chino, Calif., flying P-51D Mustang Voodoo at 464.246 mph, was third fastest in qualifications.
“This is arguably one of the most competitive fields in the history of the National Championship Air Races,” said Mike Crowell, CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA). “Truly, with such a stacked racing field, our fans are in for an unforgettable experience.”
More than 58 airplanes and 86 participants—including students, instructors, and certified pilots—were expected for RARA’s 18th annual National Championship Air Races Pylon Racing Seminar, held in June at Reno Stead Airport. The event, which is not open to the public, is a qualifying and safety seminar for pilots new to the National Championship Air Races.
“‘Rookie School,’ as many of the pilots call it, is a chance for pilots new to the races to get a feel for the course and safety guidelines. They have a chance to work and train with flight instructors who know the Reno Air Races like the back of their hands,” Crowell said. RARA sponsors the school so new and aspiring race pilots can prepare, practice, and become certified to race in September, he said.
Static displays this year include several aircraft from Textron Aviation. The company’s diverse lineup ranges from the speedy Cessna TTx to the Cessna Citation M2 light jet, a Beechcraft King Air 250 twin turboprop, and two piston workhorses—the Beechcraft Baron and the Cessna Turbo Stationair.
Returning to Reno for a second year is Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s second annual small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) Challenge, which is sponsored by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center in partnership with NASA. In the open class, competitors race their own sUAS, and in the International Race of Champions event, all participants race identical drones provided by Embry-Riddle. The competition takes place inside a netted, 60-foot-wide, 40-foot-deep, 30-foot-high “Drone Zone.”
Held every September, the National Championship Air Races have become an institution for both northern Nevada and for aviation enthusiasts from around the world. Last year’s event attracted more than 150,000 spectators, generating more than $66 million for the area’s economy. The event features competition in six racing classes, a large static aircraft display, and military and civil flight demonstrations. More information is available online.