The Reno Air Races are also known throughout the United States as the National Championship Air Races. Every September, skilled pilots take on the skies over Reno Stead Airport in Northern California. Courses range in lengths from three to eight miles, depending on the type of aircraft. Racing categories include Biplanes, Formula One, Sport, North American, Jet with no afterburner, and an unlimited category, in which empty weights must be greater than 4,500 pounds.
World War II pilot, Bill Stead, originated the air races in Reno in 1964, utilizing a small airfield in modern-day Spanish Springs, California. However, the races were moved in 1966 when nearby Stead Air Force Base closed, making its airfield available to the public. The Reno Air Races have been held at Stead, originally named for Bill’s brother, Croston, ever since. Each year, several days of qualifying races determine which pilots will compete, concluding with the Unlimited Class Gold Race. Patrons can also take advantage of aircrafts on display and entertaining flight demonstrations between races.
While it is common for aircrafts in the Reno Air Races to reach speeds over 400 miles an hour, pilots have set speed records in excess of 500 miles per hour during the races. These include Skip Holm’s 507 mile an hour flight in 2003 and Curt Brown’s 538 mile per hour flight in 2009. High speeds, however, have claimed the lives of 19 pilots. The best known is the crash of Jimmy Leeward who lost control of his heavily modified World War II plane and crashed adjacent to a large bandstand of spectators in 2011. This heavily documented crash claimed the lives of 11 people, including the pilot.
Top image: bryce_edwards (flickr)