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Sanders, Findlay win RenoSanders, Findlay win Reno

STOL Drag becomes newest race classSTOL Drag becomes newest race class

Dennis Sanders of Ione, California, won the Unlimited Gold race at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, flying his Hawker Sea Fury, Dreadnought, at an average speed of 403.274 mph. Andrew Findlay won the Sport Class for the second year in a row, although his speed was about 10 mph slower than in 2018. And although a high-profile, crowd-favorite short takeoff and landing airplane was destroyed in a takeoff accident from Reno/Stead Airport where it was displayed in conjunction with in a STOL Drag demonstration, the event will return to Reno next year on a competitive basis.

  • Dennis Sanders of Ione, California, won the Unlimited Gold race at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in his Sea Fury, "Dreadnought," with an average speed of 403.274 mph. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Two aircraft participate in a STOL Drag Racing Demonstration at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. The STOL Drag received official race class certification and will return next year. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Harvard MK IV "Bare Essentials," flown by Michael Pfleger, left, battles with Gene McNeely's AT-6, "Baby Boomer," going around a pylon at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • The brown high desert terrain around Reno, Nevada, is reflected in the polished flanks of F-51D Mustang "Goldfinger," flown by Mike Brown of Carson City, Nevada. He placed third in the Unlimited Gold race. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Biplane class race pilots congregate around their airplanes on the flight line before a heat at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Rick Siegfried's SNJ-4, "Big Red," has a slight lead on Vitaly Pecherskyy's AT-6C, "Abracadabra," in a heat race at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Andrew Findlay won the Sport Class at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races, reaching 390.744 mph in "One Moment," his highly modified Lancair Legacy--short of his 402.716-mph winning speed in 2018. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Justin Meaders, pilot of "Limitless" in the Formula 1 class, waves from his wheelchair at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. He won the class in 2018 and placed second this year. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Tony Higa of Redlands, California, and "Tango Tango"--a Pitts S-1S--compete in a heat race at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. Higa was disqualified in the Biplane Silver race. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • A T-6 Class race makes a turn during the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, with the grandstand below and mountains in the background. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • A gaggle of T-6s is bunched up in the first lap of a heat, after being released down the chute at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. The pack will stretch as faster airplanes pull ahead. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Sport racer "Relentless" receives some TLC in the pits at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. The NXT placed second in the Sport Gold race, with a speed of 358.740 mph. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Anthony Oshinuga, a pilot in the Biplane class, watches the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform from Pylon 4 on the back side of the course during the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • Tommy Ishii of Sacramento, California, rounds a pylon at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in his RV-8,"Millennial Falcon." He competed in the Sport class. Photo by Robert Fisher.
  • The L-39 jet of Phil Fogg, from Wilsonville, Oregon, gets wiped down in the pits at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races. Fogg flew 415.344 mph for seventh place in the Jet Gold race. Photo by Robert Fisher.

Findlay won the Sport Class in 2018, pushing One Moment, his highly modified Lancair Legacy, to an average speed of more than 400 miles per hour. He and his team worked through the off season, hoping to go even faster this year. Findlay did not beat last year’s speed, but he came close, completing the course in 7:12.928 for an average speed of 390.744 mph—fast enough to win the class again in 2019. The former motorcycle racer began competing at Reno in 2012.

Mike Patey's popular short takeoff and landing aircraft Draco—a highly modified PZL 104 Wilga, powered by a Pratt and Whitney PT6A-28 turobprop—was among many STOL aircraft in Reno for a STOL Drag demonstration this year. Draco crashed on departure from Reno/Stead on Sept. 16. Patey said the accident, which he blamed on his own errors, destroyed the aircraft, but neither he nor his two passengers were injured. Patey is the current STOL Drag world champion.

Kevin Quinn conceived the STOL Drag concept, which has been popularized at the High Sierra Fly-In. A STOL Drag was held at Reno this year on a demonstration basis, and the event resonated very well with the crowds. The Reno Air Racing Association announced Sept. 15, the final day of the 2019 race week, that STOL Drag will be added as an official race class at the 2020 Stihl National Championship Air Races—the first new race class created in 22 years.

Two aircraft participate in a STOL Drag Racing Demonstration at the 2019 Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. The STOL Drag received official race class certification and will return next year. Photo by Robert Fisher.

In the Unlimited Gold race, Dennis Sanders flying Dreadnought, a Hawker Sea Fury, completed the course in 9:20.713, for an average speed of 403.274 mph. Joel Swager placed second, flying the Hawker Sea Fury 924G at an average speed of 348.818 mph; third place went to Mike Brown, who flew F–51D Goldfinger at 300.640 mph.

In the Jet class, Pete Zaccagnino won the Gold race flying Just Lucky at an average speed of 495.106 mph. In the T–6 Class, Chris Rushing won the Gold race in Barons Revenge at an average speed of 235.081 mph. Lowell Slatter won the Formula One Gold race with Fraed Naught, averaging 243.442 mph. Andrew Buehler, flying Phantom, won the Biplane class with an average speed of 227.755 mph; this was based on Heat 3A results because high winds forced cancellation of the Tom Aberle Memorial Gold Race.

Full 2019 race results are available on the National Champion Air Races website.

The Reno Air Racing Association recognized Pete Law as the Person of the Year, the organization’s highest honor. "In his six decades with the National Championship Air Races, “Secret Pete” worked with nearly every Unlimited Gold racer to fly the pylon course and is credited with being the humble yet brilliant man who helped make Unlimited Air Racing faster" and "safer," according to a news release.

Also at Reno, National Aviation Hall of Fame enshrinees awarded the Grand Champion Neil A. Armstrong National Aviation Heritage Trophy to a 1931 Waco QCF owned by Chris Galloway of Woodland, California. Other 2019 National Aviation Heritage Invitational awards included the Paul E. Garber trophy for classic aircraft, presented to a 1952 Cessna 195 owned by Bela Havasreti of Kent, Washington; the Orville and Wilbur Wright trophy for antique aircraft, 1936 Stinson SR–8B owned by David Lunsford of Bayfield, Colorado; the Henry “Hap” Arnold trophy for military aircraft, 1945 Piper L4-J owned by Ken Schmitt of Springfield, Oregon; and the Herb Kelleher trophy for large aircraft, 1939 Grumman Goose owned by Gary Filizettii of Milpitas, California. The contemporary award went to Bruce Mayes of Honolulu, Hawaii, for a 1962 Meyers 200. In a tight competition, the people’s choice award for Airplane of the Year went to Galloway’s 1931 Waco QCF.

The National Aviation Heritage Invitational, founded in 1998, "encourages preservation of aviation history through the restoration of aircraft to original flying condition," according to a news release. Aircraft are judged by a five-person panel that includes representatives of the National Air and Space Museum.

The 2020 Stihl National Championship Air Races return to Reno/Stead Airport Sept. 16-20. The airport is located 20 minutes north of downtown Reno.

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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