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2016 Reno air races underway2016 Reno air races underway

The fifty-third annual National Championship Air Races kicked off Sept. 14 at Reno/Stead Airport in northern Nevada. The races continue through the weekend, concluding with the Unlimited Gold championship Sept. 18.

Sanders Air Racing's T-6 Texan, Big Red, gets some TLC in the Reno pits. Jasper, Alabama-based Joey "Gordo" Sanders pilots the venerable racer. Photo by Robert Fisher.

Racing begins daily at 8 a.m. with Biplane and Formula One class competitions. Later in the day, the remaining four race classes compete, and the audience also enjoys aerobatic performances. This year’s airshow schedule includes the U.S. Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team, as well as Lucas Oil Aerobatics, Jim Peitz Aerosports, and other performers. Unlimited Class races are scheduled during the afternoon. 

This year’s event, which could see attendance of 175,000, also will feature micro-drone racing, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. Advance ticket sales were tracking 10 percent ahead of last year’s, the newspaper reported. A complete schedule is available on the National Championship Air Races website.

Also portending a healthy event was the annual National Championship Air Races Pylon Racing Seminar in June, which drew a record number of participants and airplanes. The Pylon Racing Seminar is a qualifying and safety seminar for pilots new to the National Championship Air Races. This year’s event, which was not open to the public, hosted a record 79 airplanes and 130 participants—including students, instructors, and certificated pilots.

“We are beyond excited to have hosted a record number of planes and participants at this year’s Pylon Racing Seminar,” said Mike Crowell, president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association. “Not only is PRS an opportunity for new pilots to get a feel for the course and understand safety guidelines, it is also a chance for returning pilots to train for September.”

Voodoo, Bob Button's highly modified P-51D, is uncowled in the Reno pits before racing begins. Pilot Steve Hinton won the 2013 and 2014 Unlimited Gold in this airplane. Photo by Robert Fisher.

The association has sponsored the seminar as a unique and productive opportunity for race pilots to prepare, practice, and become certified to race in the National Championship Air Races each September. The Reno Air Racing Association, along with the individual race class organizations, opens the event to all pilots. Participation is mandatory for air racing rookies. The seminar offers race practice time, education, and training that allows pilots to race with maximum competitiveness and safety during the September races.

In a major change from previous years, STIHL signed on as the presenting sponsor for the 2016 and 2017 races. Longtime presenting sponsor Breitling did not renew this year.

“STIHL partnered with us last year as a gold sponsor of the NBC Sports show and we are thrilled that they have decided to come on board in such a big way as the presenting sponsor of the 53rd and 54th National Championship Air Races,” Crowell said. “Organizing and putting on the air races is a tremendous undertaking each year and we are very glad to partner with STIHL to bring this year’s event to our fans.”

STIHL, a major supplier of gasoline-powered handheld outdoor power equipment, learned about the air races from one of its employees—who happened to be a racing pilot.

“We were first introduced to the National Championship Air Races by our employee Andrew Findlay, who races in the Experimental class,” said Roger Phelps, STIHL’s corporate communications manager. “We were so impressed with the event, and the popularity that the pilot NBC Sports program enjoyed, that it was an obvious choice for us to grow our support. We are proud to be a part of bringing this unique and exciting event to fans around the world.”

Additional information about the air races, including ticket availability, can be found online.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
Topics: Aircraft, Air Racing

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