Beware addiction: Reno 2015
The opportunity to wander among the static display and race aircraft is one of the event’s many attractions.
Aviation is about many things and all of us are captured by different aspects, but Reno air racing is a great mixture of all things aviation.
The actual results of the racing slide to the bottom of the list, except when you are watching the last race on Sunday afternoon, the Bad Boys of Air Racing, the Gold race of the Unlimited class. Everyone has their favourite and just to see the colours, hear the growl of their incredible power and the tight airmanship as they round the pylons or dive into the valley of speed, man and machine pushed to the limits, is worth the effort of being there.
During the heats there had not been a single winner, so the final was open to at least the three fastest qualifiers and even then this should not preclude the Sea Furies, all going extremely fast and known for their reliability, which is a huge factor.
The winner this year was the very successful racer Strega, flown by Robert “Hoot” Gibson with a speed of 488.983mph. Stewart Dawson flying Rare Bear was second (471.957mph), after several years of issues really showing the hard work that has been going in and the aeroplane to be watched in 2016. Dennis Sanders in Dreadnought was third at 420.361mph.
Reno is made up of different classes. Entry level is the Formula 1 class with the majority the Cassutt Racer, a 1954 design but now all sporting new wings and many modifications. All the class is running the O-200, basically stock except for porting and polishing, ceramic coatings and other goodies, and with their crankshaft extensions pulling 3500rpm at full throttle, where they are for the full race—all you need is enough fuel and oil temperature to remain airborne for 12min.
One of the racers had on display his engine that had broken the big end bolt only 35hr from a rebuild. The rod had smashed its way out of the crankcase, totally destroying the engine, but even with the vibration and destruction going on it held together to get the aeroplane back on the ground.
All of these aeroplanes are housed in one hangar, along with the Biplane and Sportsman classes. What an atmosphere! They are all great mates on the ground with everybody rallying around lending gear and a hand if possible—also with the teamwork polishing and cleaning, the mechanics adjusting, seeking that extra knot, the wing walkers and everyone part of the after racing relaxation events.
At the end of the weekend these aeroplanes are generally dismantled and stored back in their trailers ready for the next event. For many this is the same place again next year, but for others it is a full summer of chasing the racing across the States or shipping to Europe as the sport is growing.
The Biplane class is another very affordable group as the base aeroplane is the Pitts Special. This class is highly competitive with everyone seeking to reduce drag and fly the smoothest lines to get the best possible speed. Although the smallest aeroplanes, their performance is impressive, with this year a new Biplane speed record by Phantom, a modified Mong Sport, with a speed of 284.454mph.
The Sportsman class is a great mix of experimental class aeroplanes and a great area to study aerodynamics and horsepower and such questions as size versus speed versus weight, and also fixed gear versus retractable. The end result is lots of RVs going very fast, Glasairs and Lancairs very competitive, Thunder and Stewart Mustangs and this year only one VariEze.
The T-6 (Harvard) class is the most regulated and very restrictive on modifications, resulting in “stock” Harvards howling around the course, wingtip to wingtip around the pylons and with the propeller tips breaking the speed of sound in that very special Harvard way.
The aeroplane first to the pylon cannot be overtaken from below, so the chasing aeroplane has to go higher and stay higher until he or she has gained two aeroplane lengths ahead before being able to dive ahead. It’s great racing as the second aeroplane can go down the straight side by side and then has to go high into the corner and fly further, trying to pull in the leading aeroplane.
The Jet class is raced by a mixture of jets, but the L-39 Albatros has a real presence and these boys are extremely fast, the whole class very colourful and producing tight racing. Their Gold race this year was won by a Vampire which was a real crowd favourite.
The heavy Unlimited metal is dominated by the Mustangs, and one simply cannot be disappointed by the sweet sound of a Merlin at full throttle. Seeing the mix of warbirds getting pushed to their limits is exciting, noisy and such a treat for ear and eye.
Reno is so much more than air racing, as it offers an incredible experience and very much needs to be part of anybody’s bucket list.
Reno-Stead Airport itself is a 5000 acre general aviation facility owned and operated by the Reno-Tahoe Airport. Entry is at the end of the grandstand and to the right is the static park, divided into two areas. The classic aeroplanes on show are Wacos, Stinsons and the like, while the military area has the latest hardware open and available to walk through, with the C-17, Chinook helicopters and other types.
Behind the grandstand are all the commercial stalls, aviation related and with food available. Next up are the commercial aeroplanes being displayed, from the Carbon Cub through to the latest Piper or Lancair. From here is the pits area with open tents for the heavy metal so you can get up close and see the action and talk to the crews, while further down are the Sportsman hangars and again the ability to talk and observe the activity.
Out on the ramp is the next class getting prepared, with engines being run to tweak that extra performance. Between the races the sky is alive with airshow acts, including the Tora, Tora, Tora Pearl Harbor re-enactment with lots of explosions and smoke, the Breitling Jet Team for the first time outside Europe putting on a highly polished tight act, or for pure noise and speed the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Among the other acts, one that really stood out was David Martin with a unique display that demonstrates the extraordinary manoeuvrability of his Breitling CAP 232, and his best act is where the aeroplane tumbles through the sky.
Add to this the access to the private hangars as you stroll, and you get to see inside and chat with the owners and admire their aeroplanes. And finally the weather—blue skies, not a cloud to be seen, winds light and variable and a cool temperature in the morning warming to 30deg in the late afternoon.
But a warning. If you do attend there are some risks of possible side effects. You may become addicted and so a return is required … or there’s a real risk of needing to get into air racing.
Don’t worry about this one, however, as this is a managed event with a training school to pick up the skills and then running as a rookie for your first season.
- Report and phototraphs by Evan Belworthy.
» Summer success at the Walsh
» The luxury of living in the Ivory Tower
» Comper moves swiftly
» UAV usefulness increasing
» Woodville’s even dozen
» 60th birthday party for ZK-BNL
» New airline MRO facility
» Hands across the Southern Alps
» Praise earned in tough place