High flyers – Reno Air Races take flight Thursday
The skies over Nevada County reverberate with the sound of vintage airplanes as two area pilots gear up for the 41st annual Reno National Championship Air Races set to begin Thursday.
Jim Booth of Grass Valley and Auburn’s Tom Dwelle Jr. will fly their vintage World War-II trainers in the AT-6 Class, one of six classes of racing.
The AT-6 was designed by North American Aviation during World War II as an advanced trainer to help pilots transition into front-line fighter aircraft like the P-51 Mustang. Powered by a 600 horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine, it reaches speeds of up to 220 miles per hour.
The AT-6 Class at Reno provides fans with some of the most exciting racing,as minimal modifications are allowed to the planes and pilot strategy and skill – rather than raw horsepower – determines the winner.
Booth acquired his AT-6 in 1994 after realizing his lifelong dream of owning a piece of World War II aviation.
He chose the plane because of its rugged construction and history, “not so much as a racer”, he says. Yet, the 30-year veteran pilot who began racing in 1998 laments, “Reno is the one place where you can still fly these planes the way they were designed, with agility and speed. I keep it basically stock although borrowed a racing propeller and added special gap sealers to improve the airflow.”
He placed fourth in the Bronze category during last year’s races with hopes of getting into the Silver this year. Booth and his wife Mary will be assisted by friends and fellow members of the Golden Empire Flying Association.
After a five-year break from racing, Tom Dwelle Jr. will return to the pylons in an AT-6F named “Kitchen Pass.” Dwelle Jr. began flying in 1987 and raced several AT-6s from 1993-97, when he placed admirably in the Bronze and Silver categories.
He has since amassed over 5,000 flight hours in various planes, including Boeing 757s, and after a stint flying professionally for US Airways, returned to California with his wife Heather to work in the family business. He is the manager of Flyers Gas station in Grass Valley and is eager to get back to on the course in the family’s latest airplane.
Ken Dwelle, his brother, captured the silver championship in their plane’s racing debut last year.
“We put the race prop on and are now doing speed trials with varying weight in the tail. We should be much faster than last year,” said Ken, who performed most of the preparation on the plane for this year. The speed trials were witnessed by south county residents as Ken put the plane through its paces with hopes of reclaiming another Gold Championship for the Dwelles.
The Dwelles have become air racing icons over the past 15 years with two consecutive Gold championships in AT-6s, and numerous Gold victories in the Unlimited Class with Tom Dwelle Sr. flying “Critical Mass”.
The 41th annual Reno National Championship Air Races and Show will be held Thursday through Sunday, September 16-19 at the Stead Airport located 10 miles north of Reno Nevada on US 395. Six classes of racing aircraft [Unlimited, Sport, T-6, Formula One, Biplane, and Jet], plus top aerobatic performers and scores of aircraft fly-bys and displays of modern front-line military aircraft. General and reserved seating tickets can be purchased at the gate. For more information, visit http://www.airrace.org.
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