Air Races take off in Reno |

Air Races take off in Reno

Although not the fastest planes on the course, the class of World War II vintage AT-6 Texan trainers are often the most competitive. Pilot finesse and getting the edge in close quarters determines the winner at speeds ranging between 220 and 250 mph.
Tim O’Brien

Following a one-year hiatus, the STIHL National Championship Air Races and Show is now underway at Reno-Stead Airport.

With renewed enthusiasm and energy, 140 planes are entered in seven racing classes and began speed qualifications on Monday as pilots prepare to challenge the defending 2019 champions around the pylons through the weekend.

The sporty Biplane Class of mostly stock or modified Pitts Special and Mong Racers provide early day excitement ahead of afternoon gusts on a tight 3.12-mile course, reaching speeds between 180 and 220 mph.
Tim O’Brien

The Sport Class comprised of factory sponsored performance kit planes has 34 entrants this year, with speeds ranging from 250 mph to over 400 mph. Through this week’s time trials, they will be separated into categories, namely Medallion, Bronze, Silver and Gold for competitive heat races, with the quickest set to challenge 2019 Gold Champion — Andrew Findlay of McCall, Idaho — who thrust his Lancair racer to a howling 390.744 mph average lap speed victory.

The agile Formula One Class has 16 entrants with expected speeds close to 250 mph.

Powered by a Continental O-200 engine (the same 100 hp engine used in a Cessna 150), the faster Formula 1 can reach 250 mph on the 3.12-mile race course in Reno. Many Formula 1 aircraft are built by the pilots that race them and are a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy the excitement and satisfaction of air racing.
Tim O’Brien

The Biplane Class numbers 18 qualifiers with seasoned pilots dueling in tight formations at around 220 mph.

The AT-6 Class of stock World War II trainers with 13 entered contenders promises intense competition, often resulting in a photo finish at speeds approaching 250 mph.

Nineteen Jet Class entries include 1960s vintage L-29, L-39 and Jet Provost trainers with Gold race speeds exceeding the 500 mph mark.

The Jet Class began in 2002 and features mostly Provost, Iskra, L-29, L-39 and DeHavilland Vampires. This class truly stands for the “Fastest Motor Sport” with speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour on a 7.91-mile course. Photo
Tim O’Brien

The historic Unlimited Class is fielding 14 entrants comprised of stock and modified World War II fighters, including vintage P-51D Mustangs, Hawker Sea Furys and a rare Bell P-63 King Cobra.

Following a successful Short Field Drag Racing Demonstration of 2019, the STOL (Short Takeoff or Landing) Class will make its official debut this year.

“It’s like when car drag racing meets aviation, and it’s going to bring a whole new energy to the races,” said Kevin Quinn, president and founder of STOL Drag. Twenty-five entries are set to compete in front of the grandstands.

Along with racing, the Reno-Stead Airport will host the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team, U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey demonstration, aerobatics of Jim Peitz Aerosports and barnstorming with Tucker’s Air Patrol. Additionally, the National Aviation Heritage Invitational returns to the Nevada high desert with some of the finest examples of aircraft restorations in the country and a “flying museum” to be located on the east end of the airport ramp.

Scores of interactive displays, vendors and activities on the ground will round out the daily events.

The STIHL National Championship Air Races and Show is in its 57th year, and will be held through Sunday at the Reno-Stead Airport, 4895 Texas Ave., north of Reno. General and reserved seating tickets can be purchased online or at the gate. For official qualifying times, race results and more information, visit

Tim O’Brien is a freelancer for The Union

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