Reno Air Races 2012

In September 2012 I went to one of the top aerial events of the world, the 49th annual Reno Air Races (a 5 day event) just outside Reno, Nevada USA. The races really are a fantastic event and they have it all from high-speed racing aircraft and warbirds to aerobatic aircraft and military jets. The week leading up to the air races I also got to see a mass hot air balloon launch for the kickoff of The Great Reno Balloon Race and over in Sacramento, I went to the California Capital Air Show. So it was a great aviation week for me!

Reno Airport Reno Air Races 2012
Reno Airport

Reno hosts the National Championship Air Races each year. The 2012 Reno race event was themed as a tribute to those people tragically lost in the race crash of 2011 and also to the heroism of the first responders who conducted rescue operations following the crash. A modified North American P-51 MustangThe Galloping Ghost” flown by James K. Leeward (74 years old) crashed during a race into the crowd killing him, 10 spectators and injuring 69 others. Due to this tragedy it was feared the races would never be held again, but modifications to the race format to increase safety have allowed it to continue and the 2012 races were on. The opening ceremony tribute was a touching moment.

tribute reno air races 2012 opening
A tribute
USAF F-15 Eagle tribute flypast Reno Air Races 2012
USAF F-15 Eagle tribute flypast

The best way to describe the air races is to imagine a large number of aircraft flying very close together (at times wingtip to wingtip) and very low across the desert floor at high-speed (approximately 5o feet is the minimum altitude allowed). It is spectacular to watch!

The racing aircraft fly around a course which is marked out by pylons (15.2 metre / 50 foot telephone poles) out in the desert nearby Reno Stead Field. Judges are stationed near each pole to ensure the race rules are followed at all times. The entire course is visible from the airport spectator areas and the finish line is right in front of the central grandstands.

The T-33 chase plane taxiing past the Reno Air Races finish line 2012
The T-33 pace jet taxiing past the Reno Air Races finish line
Reno Air Races Course
Reno Air Races Course

The races involve numerous heat events leading up to the finale weekend which hosts the finals to determine the grand champion across a number of race classes:

Biplane Class –  Small aerobatic aircraft like the Pitts Special, they race over a 5.12 km / 3.18 mile course flying at speed in excess of 320 kph / 200 mph.

Formula One Class – These small racing aircraft (often built by the pilots) are all fitted with the same Continental O-200 engine and race around a 5.12 km / 3.18 mile course and hit speeds up to 400 kph / 250 mph.

Sports Class – High performance kit built aircraft that race around a longer 11.25 km / 6.99 mile course hitting speeds upwards of 560 kph / 350 mph! These aircraft are very streamlined and virtually all engine!

"Sweet Dreams" a GP-5 in the Sports Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Sweet Dreams” a GP-5 in the Sports Class
"Relentless" NXT Sports Class air racer Reno air races 2012
“Relentless” NXT Sports Class air racer

T-6 Class – the venerable World War Two era North American T-6 Texan (Harvard in Commonwealth countries and SNJ in the US Navy) is raced in this class around an 8.14 km / 5.06 mile course with top speeds upwards of 370 kph /230 mph.

Eros AT-6 Reno Air Races 2012
“Eros” AT-6 from Washington State
T-6 race Reno 2012
T-6 racers low and fast
T-6 Class Reno Air Races 2012 Nevada
T-6 Class air race
T-6 racers pass the finish line reno air races 2012
T-6 racers pass the finish line

Jet Class – This is an interesting mix of smaller jets, mostly Cold War era Czech built Aero jets such as the L-29 Delfin and L-39 Albatros (but is open to all similar aircraft such as the PZL Iskra, de Havilland Vampire and BAE Jet Provost). They race around an 13.63 km / 8.47 mile course exceeding 800 kph / 500 mph (great to watch at such low altitudes)!

Aero L-39 Albatros Reno Air Races 2012
Aero L-39 Albatros
Aero L-29 Delfin Jet Class Reno Air Races 2012
Aero L-29 Delfin
PZL TS-11 Iskra Reno Air Races 2012
PZL TS-11 Iskra
Aero L-39 Albatros Jet Class Reno Air Races 2012
Albatros takes flight
Reno Air Race Jet class Aero L-39 & L-29
Aero on Aero (L-39 & L-29)
Jet Class Reno Air Races Nevada
The jets race at high speed just above the desert floor
L-39 Albatros Reno Air Races 2012 Jet Class racer
Albratros racer
Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Jet racers go past Unlimited Class racers

It was great to meet the crew of an Aussie team flying an L-39 “Blank Czech too (they were getting about in golf buggies with inflatable Kangaroos and the Australian flag) – they come in from Australia but the aircraft is US based.

Blank CzechL-39 Reno Air Races 2012
The Aussie jet team flying “Blank Czech”

Unlimited Class – Now this is the big show, the one most people come to see. These prop driven racers are mostly modified (some extremely so!) World War Two era aircraft such as the North American P-51D Mustang, Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F7F Tigercat, Grumman F8F Bearcat and Hawker Sea Fury. They race around a 13.57 km / 8.43 mile course exceeding 800 kph / 500 mph. The aircraft in the Unlimited Class have great names too like: “Strega” (P-51D), “Rare Bear” (F8F), “Sawbones” (Sea Fury), “September Fury” (Sea Fury), “Speedball Alice” (P-51D), “Miss America” (P-51D), “Dreadnought” (Sea Fury), “Argonaut” (Sea Fury), “Precious Metal” (P-51XR) and “Air Biscuit” (FM-2 Wildcat). This was my favourite race event by far!

Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012 Mutang Sea Fury
Unlimited Class air racers – Mustangs & Sea Fury’s
Steadfast Yak-3U Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Yak-3U “Steadfast”
Dreadnought Sea Fury Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Dreadnought” Hawker Sea Fury
P-51 Mustang Miss America Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
P-51 Mustang “Miss America”
Saw Bones Hawker Sea Fury Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Saw Bones” Hawker Sea Fury
Grumman F7F Tigercat Reno Air Races 2012
Grumman F7F Tigercat
F7F Tigercat nose art Reno Air Races 2012
F7F Tigercat nose art
Sea Fury Argonaut Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Sea Fury “Argonaut”
P-51 Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Wee Willy II” P-51 Mustang
Sea Fury Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Sea Fury’s racing
Sea Fury Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Sea Fury’s racing
Precious metal P-51 Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Precious Metal” modified racing P-51
Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Unlimited Class racing is not to be missed!
P-51 F7F Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
Mustang & Tigercat Unlimited Class racers
F4U Corsair Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
F4U Corsair Unlimited Class racer
Reno Air Races 2012 jet class
Unlimited Class race just above the desert floor
rare bear f8f bearcat Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Rare Bear” a modified racing Grumman F8F Bearcat
FM-2 Wildcat Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Air Biscuit” Grumman FM-2 Wildcat
September Fury Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012 Sea Fury
“September Fury” a modified Sea Fury
Strega P-51 Reno Air Races 2012
“Strega”

In addition with a special pass (available at the ticket office each day) you can wander around the pits area and get a real insight into the maintenance of these racing aircraft. You get to see the engines up close and the work that goes into getting these old aircraft up into the sky each day. I thoroughly recommend you do this if you ever attend the races.

Strega P-51 Unlimited Class Reno Air Races 2012
“Strega”
The souped up Rolls Royce Merlin of P-51 "Strega" Reno Air Races 2012
The souped up Rolls Royce Merlin of P-51 “Strega”
September Fury in the pit area Reno Air Races 2012
September Fury in the pit area
"Rare Bear" reno air races 2012 F8F bearcat
“Rare Bear”
Pit area for the T-6 Class Reno Air Races 2012
Pit area for the T-6 Class
Hawker Sea Fury Reno Air Races 2012 unlimited class
Hawker Sea Fury
Rare Bare pits reno air races 2012
“Rare Bear” in the pits
Rare Bear F8F Bearcat Reno Air Races 2012
A close up view “Rare Bears” souped up radial engine
"Precious Metal" a heavily modified P-51 Mustang Reno Air Races 2012
“Precious Metal” a heavily modified P-51 Mustang!

Reno is more than just the air races as you can also see historical aircraft, warbirds, aerobatic aircraft and modern military jets in the public static areas. Then between the races are numerous flying displays of many of these aircraft that form the air show component of each day. The highlight of these air displays were the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighters of the USAF along with air force and navy heritage flights.

Breitling Aerobatics Reno Air Races 2012
Breitling Aerobatics
F-15 F-22 F/A-18E Reno Air Races 2012
US Air Power
F-22 Raptor Reno Air Races 2012 Nevada
Checking out the F-22 Raptors
Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor Reno Air Races 2012
Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet Reno Air Races 2012
US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet
F-15 Eagle low pass Reno Air Races 2012
F-15 Eagle low pass
ANG F-15 Reno Air Races 2012
A nice looking F-15 from the ANG in Oregon
U-2 Dragonlady Reno Air Races 2012
Lockheed U-2 “Dragonlady”
US Army Chinook and Lakota  Reno Air Races 2012
US Army Chinook and Lakota helicopters
US Army CH-47 Chinook Reno Air Races Nevada USA
US Army CH-47 Chinook
A special commemorative paint job on this VFA-2 Bounty Hunters US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet Reno Air Races 2012
A special commemorative paint job on this US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 2 (VFA-2) “Bounty Hunters”
US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet Reno Air Races 2012
US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet
US Navy Heritage Flight - Super Hornet & Bearcat Reno Air Races 2012
US Navy Heritage Flight – Super Hornet & Bearcat
The Patriots Display Team flying the Aero L-39 Albatros reno Air Races 2012
The Patriots Display Team flying the Aero L-39 Albatros
The Patriots Reno Air Races 2012
The Patriots doing a low formation pass
F-22 raptor takeoff reno air races 2012
The F-22 Raptor takes off
F22 Reno Air Races 2012 USAF
The F-22 Raptor – one mean machine!
USAF Heritage Flight - P-51 Mustang & F-22 Raptor Reno Air Races 2012
USAF Heritage Flight – P-51 Mustang & F-22 Raptor

The event also hosts the National Aviation Heritage Invitational competition for the best restored flying historical aircraft. In 2012 the overall winner was a 1944 Consolidated Vultee Stinson OY-1. This aircraft is owned by Duncan Cameron of Lebanon, TN and he was awarded the Neil A. Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy.

A Lockheed Ventura and the trophy winning OY-1 Reno Air Races 2012
A Lockheed Ventura and the trophy winning OY-1
Ford Trimotor - reno air races heritage trophy 2012
Ford Trimotor
Rockwell OV-10 Bronco Reno 2012
Rockwell OV-10 Bronco
Heritage Trophy entrants and static aircraft displays Reno Air Races 2012
Heritage Trophy entrants and static aircraft displays

The Unlimited Class Grand Champion for 2012 was Steve Hinton Jnr. (24 years old) flying “Strega” a heavily modified P-51 Mustang (the 10th championship for this aircraft). This was by far the standout aircraft during the heats and was more or less the favourite to win the event. The other winners were Tom Aberle in a Mong RacerPhantom” in the biplane event, Steve Senegal took the honours in the Formula One race in an Arnold AR-6Endeavor“, Rick Vandom won the jet race in L-39 “American Spirit and Nick Macy in “Six Cat” took out the T-6 race.

Steve Hinton Jnr Winner Reno Air Races 2012
The Champ
"Strega" the gold champion reno air races 2012
“Strega” the gold champion

2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Reno Air Races. This will be a bigger than ever event and one well worth checking out on your aviation calendar.

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5 thoughts on “Reno Air Races 2012

  1. In my next life perhaps I will have the money to simplt own and fly the P-51. As a young boy during WWII I remember hearing and seeing them fly overhead. Once saw one sitting in a cow pasture where it was parked by a lady ferry pilot. Many years later found on one on the ramp at the old 7-Bar airport. Couldn’t find the “keys” worse luck.

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    1. I hear you James! About a 15 years ago I had the chance to fly in one for $250(!) but that was “too expensive” for me back then. Big regret as it is at least 10 times that amount for a short flight today!!!! Oh well I still get to enjoy seeing them fly, that has to count for something.

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