Lightning speeds, plenty of thunder at Reno air races | TheUnion.com

Lightning speeds, plenty of thunder at Reno air races

Tim O’Brien
Special to The Union

Although clear skies and mild to warm temperatures remain in the forecast, there is nonetheless a terrific storm in the skies above Stead Field, north of Reno, Nevada. The 52nd annual National Championship Air Races and Show promises lightning speeds with plenty of thunder as 116 planes qualify in six classes for heat races to begin today.

Thirteen modified World War II fighter planes have entered the Unlimited Class to avenge returning champion, Steven Hinton Jr. of Chino, flying "Voodoo," who qualified his P-51 Mustang at 464.246 mph during Monday's trials. Likely challengers include Stewart Dawson, of Celina, Texas, flying the famous "Rare Bear" Grumman Bearcat who turned in a blistering 480.644 mph, capturing the pole position after a rocky start and mayday landing on Monday. Arch rival, "Strega," the P-51 flown by former space shuttle astronaut, Robert "Hoot" Gibson of Murfreesboro, Ten., posted in fourth place at 430.052 mph behind the ever consistent Dennis Sanders of Ione, flying "Dreadnaught," a big-engined Hawker Sea Fury at 432.860 mph.

What does this all mean?

Air race fans will generally tell you "not much." Pushing the fastest planes through three 8-lap heats to make the Gold race on Sunday is historically full of surprises.

"Rare Bear" is strong and capable of 520 mph lap speeds, but not reliable to go the distance in recent years. "Dreadnaught" is reliable with its massive 4360 cubic inch engine, but has not the sleek aerodynamics to catch 'Voodoo" and "Strega," which last year amazed fans with a dramatic heat race photo finish at 473.967 mph. So close, that the timing officials postponed announcing the official winner until the following day upon review of their data.

What can only be said for certain when it comes to Unlimiteds is — it's really up in the air until Sunday's Gold Championship.

Recommended Stories For You

In other classes, Tom Aberle of Fallbrook, flying "Phantam" is currently on the pole in the Biplane Class of 14 entrants with a record shattering speed of 284.454 mph.

In the Formula One Class with 16 entrants, Steve Senegal of San Bruno is top qualifier at 252.398 mph flying "Endeavor."

The ultra-competitive AT-6 Class has 17 entrants and currently places Nick Macy, of Tulelake, as top-qualifier at 238.524 mph.

The growing Sport Class is featuring 37 planes this year and has John Parker of Reno, just under the 400 mph mark at 397.251 mph in "Blue Thunder II."

Official qualifying results for the Jet Class with 17 entrants were not available at press time, but may be reviewed along with race results at the website, http://www.airrace.org

In addition to Racing, Reno/Stead Airport will host the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Tora, Tora, Tora Airshow, a dynamic recreation of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Top attractions in aerobatic and exhibition flying include David Martin, the Breitling Jet Demonstration Team, Red Eagles Formation Team, the U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon, Wings of Blue U.S. Air Force Academy Jump Team and the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight.

The 52nd annual Reno National Championship Air Races and Show will be held today through Sunday at the Stead Airport located 10 miles north of Reno. General and reserved seating tickets can be purchased at the gate. For more information, visit http://www.airrace.org.