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Hinton flies away with Unlimited GoldHinton flies away with Unlimited Gold

2016 Reno air races see several dramatic moments2016 Reno air races see several dramatic moments

The fifty-third annual National Championship Air Races concluded Sept. 18 in Reno with pilot Steve Hinton Jr. of Chino, California, winning the Unlimited Gold championship. It was his third Unlimited Gold win in the highly modified P-51D Mustang Voodoo, averaging 460.306 mph during the championship race. Hinton’s fastest time in Voodoo this year was 475.027 mph, achieved during a qualifying heat on Sept. 12.

  • Steve Hinton Jr. flew modified P-51D Mustang "Voodoo" to a third Unlimited Gold championship at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. It was Hinton's seventh championship at the annual event. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Dennis Sanders banks his Hawker Sea Fury against a backdrop of Nevada mountains. He placed sixth in the Unlimited Gold race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Biplane Class racers are pushed out to the runway before an early race during the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Jeff Rose won the Biplane Gold race with a speed of 217.858 mph in his Mong Sport. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Kevin Eldredge flew "Relentless" to a fifth-place finish in the Sport Gold race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. He averaged 320.961 mph over the six-lap contest. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Lee Oman of Sequim, Wash., pilots this AT-6 during the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Oman won the T-6 Bronze race. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Pylon judges pose for a group portrait during a break in the action at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Two QF-4 Phantoms--recovered from the Davis-Monthan boneyard and converted for use as target drones, fly an overhead break in the airshow during the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Spared from destruction in the target drone mission, the last flying Air Force Phantoms will be retired later this year. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Peter Balmer placed seventh in the 2016 Sport Gold race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno, flying the Thunder Mustang "Swiss Thunder." Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Stihl became the presenting sponsor of the 2016 National Championship Air Races--in part because of Sport Class pilot Andrew Findlay, a Stihl employee. Findlay earned a spot in this year's Sport Gold race but did not finish. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Ralph Rina, flying "Bare Essentials" (top), tries to pass Chris LeFave's "Midnight Express" during the T-6 Silver race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Rina placed fourth, and LeFave was fifth. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Vintage North American trainers are bunched up early in a T-6 Class race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Brant Seghetti of Vacaville, Calif., banks into a turn at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. He took fifth place in the Unlimited Silver race flying his P-51D Mustang. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Dave Morss, in his Lancair 320, turns outside Tom McNerney's Lancair 360 in a heat race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Morss went on to win the Sport Bronze race; McNerney competed in the Sport Silver contest. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Three North American AT-6s are in trail heading into a turn during a T-6 Class race at the 2016 National Championship Air Races in Reno. Photo by Robert Fisher.

Second place in the Unlimited Gold race went to rookie racer James Consalvi of Midland, Texas, averaging 450.582 mph in Czech Mate, a Yak-11 previously raced by Sherman Smoot. 

Third place in the National Championship Air Races’ showcase event went to Brian Sanders of El Dorado Hills, California, flying the Hawker Sea Fury Dreadnought. The veteran racer has five second-place finishes in the airplane. “I would trade all of those for one first [place],” Sanders told the Reno Gazette-Journal

No injuries were reported from any aircraft incidents during the week. An in-flight engine fire was reported during a Sport Class heat race; pilot Chiwami Takagi-Read was able to land and evacuate her Glasair I before it caught fire. One of the two de Havilland Vampires competing in the Jet Class suffered a bird strike, and ingested debris caused an engine failure; the pilot made an emergency landing in the dirt between the runways and the single-engine jet was substantially damaged, although the pilot was able to exit the aircraft.

Thom Richard of Kissimmee, Florida, the pilot of Formula One racer Hot Stuff, miraculously avoided serious injury when the wing of another race airplane passed above his head during an accident on the runway.

Richard posted online that during the run-up for the Formula One Gold race on Sunday, his engine was not running well, and that he shut down as a signal to starters to halt the starting process, per racing procedures. However, the aircraft to his right started rolling, and a few seconds later the No. 6 and 8 aircraft—from the row behind Richard on the starting grid—went past on either side. Moments later the No. 7 aircraft impacted Richard’s airplane, removing several inches from the vertical stabilizer and striking Richard’s right hand, which was holding up his canopy. The other pilot was not injured.

A video camera on Richard’s glareshield captured the collision. Be forewarned that the footage is graphic. 

Hot Stuff suffered severe damage, Richard posted online. “I’m not the slightest bit upset over the accident. I, in fact, consider myself a very lucky man,” he wrote. “There’s risk in everything we do. But the counterpart to that is reward. I choose to cross the street because the risk of crossing the street is worth the reward of getting to the other side. Same thing with air racing, I’ll be back.”

Winners in the other classes of the fifty-third National Championship Air Races were:

Jet Class, American Spirit, an L-39 Albatros flown by Rick Vandam; 497.921 mph.

Sport Class, Race 39, a Glasair III flown by Jeff LaVelle; 383.397 mph.

T-6 Class, Baron’s Revenge, an AT-6B flown by Chris Rushing; 231.193 mph.

Formula One Class, Fraed Naught, a Gilbert DG2 flown by Lowell Slatter; 256.728 mph.

Biplane Class, Reno Rabbit, a Mong Sport flown by Jeff Rose; 217.858 mph.

Full 2016 race results are available online. Dates for next year’s fifty-fourth annual National Championship Air Races have not yet been announced; check the Reno Air Racing Association website for the latest information.  

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: Air Racing

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