Robert “Hoot” Gibson won the Unlimited Gold Race at the Fifty-Second Annual National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, Sept. 20, unseating six-time gold winner Steve Hinton Jr. Gibson flew the P-51D Mustang Strega and covered the course in a time of 7:52:54, for a speed of 488.983 mph. Defending champion Hinton, flying Voodoo—another P-51D Mustang—did not finish the race, pulling up and leaving the course on his seventh lap.
Hinton was third fastest in qualification flying earlier in the week, posting a speed of 464.246 mph.
Gibson, 68, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is a former naval aviator, test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and a retired NASA astronaut. He is a professional pilot who competes regularly at the annual Reno Air Races.
“It ain’t over until it’s over,” he told the Reno Gazette-Journal after the race. “So I didn’t know I had him until I crossed the checkered flag and until I stopped on the ground and I heard them say it was a clean race.”
Stewart Dawson of Celina, Texas, placed second in the Unlimited Breitling Gold race, flying Rare Bear—a modified F8F-2 Bearcat—at an average speed of 471.957 mph. Dennis Sanders of Ione, California, claimed third with Dreadnought, a Hawker Sea Fury T Mk.20, at 420.361 mph.
The Jet Class, fastest of Reno’s six race classes, had a record 19 race airplanes this year. Pete Zaccagnino of Park City, Utah, won the class with his de Havilland Vampire, Vampire, and an average speed on the course of 502.370 mph. Sean Cushing of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was close behind in his L-39 Albatros, Fast Company, clocking 501.806 mph. Local racer Rick Vandam of Reno captured third, flying L-39 American Spirit at 492.234 mph.
Dennis Buehn of Fallon, Nevada, won the T-6 Gold race averaging 238.073 mph flying an AT-6, Midnight Miss III. Chris Rushing of Van Nuys, California, flying Baron’s Revenge, took second with a speed of 231.808 mph—barely edging Nick Macy of Tulelake, California, who clocked 231.730 mph flying Six Cat.
John Parker of Reno won the Sport Class, which had 37 competitors this year, in his Thunder Mustang, Blue Thunder II, with a speed of 377.403 mph. Second went to Lynn Farnsworth of Roswell, Georgia, flying 375.483 mph in the Lancair Legacy Miss Karen II; Andrew Findlay of Norfolk, Virginia, captured third in another Legacy, One Moment, with an average speed of 356.811 mph.
Tom Aberle of Fallbrook, California, won the Biplane Class in Phantom, a modified Mong Sport, with a speed of 245.109 mph—despite a 24-second cut penalty. Aberle broke the course biplane speed record in a qualifying race on Sept. 14 with a speed of 284.454 mph; the previous record, set in 2014, was 274.091.
Jake Steward placed second in the biplane competition, flying Pitts S-1S Bad Mojo at 220.447 mph. Jeff Rose took third flying a Mong, Reno Rabbit, at 200.220 mph; Rose was assessed a 12-second cut penalty.
Steve Senegal of San Bruno, California, won the Formula One Gold race flying Endeavor, a David Hoover AR-6, at a speed of 239.432 mph. Second went to Vito Wypraechtiger, flying the Cassutt III-M Scarlet Screamer, at an average 238.243 mph while Elliot Seguin took third with Wasabi Siren, a Wasabi Special, and a speed of 233.087 mph.
The National Championship Air Races are held in Reno every September. Last year’s event attracted more than 150,000 spectators, generating more than $66 million for the area’s economy. Full results from this year ’s race are available online.