Reno Air Racing, Nothing like it in the World
Are you a race fan? Do you like your hair to be “on fire?”
Well, the sport of racing doesn’t just apply to cars; Airplanes are also included in the sport of racing. The Reno National Championship Air Races have been taking to the skies since 1964, when Bill Stead organized an air race north of Reno, Nevada, and the Reno National Championship Air Races were born. The event that Bill Stead started in the Nevada desert more than 50 years ago is still going strong. The event has only been interrupted once, in September of 2001 when all aircraft in the United States were grounded following the terrorists attacks in New York and Washington.
Held every September just north of Reno, the National Championship Air Races have become an institution for northern Nevada and aviation enthusiasts from around the world. For one full week, the Reno/Stead airport transforms into a racing frenzy. Fast flying pilots take to the skies to become the trophy and purse winners of the Gold Race. It becomes home to many visiting aircraft, their pilots and crews. In the past ten years, the event has attracted more than 150,000 spectators, and generated more than $70 million annually for the region’s economy. The event features six racing classes, a large display of static aircraft, and several military and civil flight demonstrations.
I recently had the privilege of hosting Dennis Bruehn on my Teresa’s Garage Radio Show. Dennis is the winning pilot of the 2015 Reno National Championship Air Races T-6 Class. I had a chance to ask him how one becomes a fast flying race pilot?
Dennis’s eyes lit up when he began to explain what makes his hair “catch fire” as an Air Race pilot. He stated that it’s from just being at the races, the camaraderie, and the excitement the spectators express. Dennis went on to say that the Air Races is a multi-team effort, not just among his crew, but all those that are there to fly to achieve the miracle.
I can tell you that these pilots are not taking to the skies racing fast and hard for the money. If it was just for the monetary benefit, the races would not be taking place. It is the adrenaline rush, a bit of ego, and the ability to outperform your competitor. Fly fast, turn left, and fly low, as Dennis puts it. You see, in every race, the pilot only makes left turns on the course.
The pilots are put through 10 hours of briefing and preparation for only 10 minutes of flying. Just like in auto racing; if it’s the race car driver, or the air race pilot, the rush begins the moment you start your engines, taxiing your aircraft down the tarmac, and then taking to the skies, to set up and line up in flight, for the start of the race. They begin to start foaming at the mouth just waiting to hear, “Gentlemen and Ladies, you have a race.” The race class determines the speeds that are reached. They go from 160 miles an hour, to 500, depending on the type of planes in the racing class.
Hosting such a fast flying event is no easy task. So just what goes into bringing the Reno National Championship Air Races to reality? Mike Crowell, the CEO of the Air Races in Reno, my other guest on my show, explained his role, what it takes to put on such an event, and what is in the future for the Air Races.
Mike Crowell is relatively new to the Reno Air Races and was hired in February of 2015 to become the Chief Executive Officer. Mike had retired from Coca Cola a few years prior and was asked by a friend to consider taking over the reins. Mike did not have any previous flying experience, but what he does bring to the table is the business side and the knowledge of how to brand a product; just what the Reno Championship Air Races needed at that point in time. Mike’s first order of business was to go from a business type operation to a 501(c)3 non‐profit organization. This gives the Air Races the opportunity to go out and solicit donations through various avenues, in order to keep such an expensive sport flying.
The logistics in preparing for such an event not only takes commitment to the community, the pilots, but also from those individuals who put in countless hours volunteering their time to make the Reno National Championship Air Races the best and only in the world. Numerous people volunteer, 2000 to be exact. You need hundreds of portable toilets, food vendors, entertainers, media, law enforcement, safety equipment and personnel, grounds keepers, golf carts, Pylon judges, buses, and the list goes on.
The area benefits as well. This event pumps some 70 million dollars into the local economy; from gasoline sales, hotel/motel rooms, dining, rental cars, and so much more. Only 30 percent of the spectators are locals, the other 70% come from all over the country, and from around the world, just to feast their eyes on the only closed Pylon air race left in the world. There are air shows, lots of them, but the Reno Championship Air Races is not an Air Show, they are racing.
New to the Air Races in 2016
So what can you expect to be new at the Air Races in 2016? Mike Crowell and his staff have been working with Nevada’s Governor to host their first ever Drone Races. These drones weigh around 160 lbs. and are being flown remotely by their pilots. This is something I can’t wait to see. Nevada is now one of only 5 sites in the U.S. for drone manufacturing and testing, so what better to add to the list of things to see at the Air Races than Drone Races? It has not been solidified as yet, since pilots will need to attend the June pilot training school, held each year to insure pilots are fit and that the aircraft qualify, but the work entailed to put on such a race has begun.
If you have never been to the Air Races in Reno, you are missing something that is truly amazing. It is not just flying machines, but you are entertained by groups such as the Blue Angels precision flying jet team, aerobatic flying, or even the Confederate Air Force (now the Commemorative Air Force.)
But, the Races are truly the main event. These types of races come with a great deal of danger; danger from your aircraft stalling, to major mechanical failure, to crashes. When you are traveling speeds of up to 500 mph, stopping or landing safely may not be an option. Every pilot knows what could happen and prays that it never does.
Back in the early 1980’s, I personally had the opportunity to fly in one of the aircraft during test trials while they performed their maneuvers, and all I can say is, I am so glad I hadn’t eaten prior to taking to the skies. I was threatened by the pilot, in a fun way, that if I barfed in the helmet, he would eject me. That alone was enough for me to hold it in, but the experience was priceless, and the opportunity was once in a lifetime. I just wish we had GoPro cameras back then.
The Reno National Championship Air Races are held every year, mid-September for 5 days of excitement, fun and some outstanding flying. Check out their website at AirRace.org. If you are contemplating attending, I would suggest you book early, because rooms and rental cars go quickly. Check out the video in this article to get a small feel for what they are all about. Happy Flying.