If you love flight and watching aircraft speed through the sky, you’ll want to catch the National Championship Reno Air Races, which return to the Reno Stead Airport in 2016 for the 53rd year.
This year’s races, scheduled Sept. 14-18, feature air races in six different classes, including Biplane, Formula One, Sport, T-6, Jet and Unlimited. Planes in these races hit different speeds and race for different course lengths. Expect pilots in the Jet class to showcase their skills at speeds greater than 500 mph in aircraft like L-29s and DeHavilland Vampires.
And while the races are a top draw for many of the truest fans, others come to enjoy the performers. This year, that includes the U.S. Navy Blue Angels as headliners. This team of blue has flown more than 100 different aircraft during a near-70 year history.
“We are thrilled that the Blue Angels are returning to the National Championship Air Races,” Reno Air Racing Association President and CEO Mike Crowell said. “The history of the team, the camaraderie and the sheer excitement the Blue Angels bring to their performances will no doubt have an effect on attendees.”
Members from both the Navy and Marines comprise the Blue Angels team, and they will demonstrate their skills in F/A-18 Hornets. The Blue Angels performances, on Saturday and Sunday, are not to be missed since they showcase precision flying with team members whipping into a six-jet Delta formation.
The U.S. Air Force’s Wings of Blue Jump Team also will perform, creating awe and wonder for those below. The Wings of Blue team is responsible for operating the Air Force Basic Freefall Parachuting course, meaning that members are both jump masters and course instructors.
Other show-stealing performers
The National Championship Air Races begin each day about 8 a.m. Kicking off the mornings are Biplane and Formula One class races, followed by demonstrations and aerobatic shows later in the afternoons. The Unlimited Class is another class promising excitement as it typically features stock or modified World War II fighters, such as Hawker Sea Furies and P-51 Mustangs that can hit speeds of more than 500 mph.
Usually, the last event of the day finishes around 4:30 p.m., but there is impressive military aircraft that can be seen on display as part of the Air Races, too. That includes the C-17 Globemaster III, F-15 Eagle, CH-47 Chinook Helicopter and more this year.
“We are also excited that on its first-ever tour of air show performances, Reno will see two F-35s in the line of static displays,” Crowell said. “Each and every year, the performers take this event to an even higher level. I hope that race fans, visitors and spectators will be as excited about this year’s lineup as I am.”
Additionally, Pilot Jim Peitz, who learned to fly on prairie land in South Dakota, will show off his aerobatic skills in a Beechraft F33C Bonanza. One of a few of its kind, spectators can expect to see it barrel roll, snap roll, and do Cuban eights — a figure-8 aerobatic maneuver — all at the hands of Pietz.
And then there is Lucas Oil Pitts, piloted by Mike Wiskus, who developed a love of flying at a young age. Nicknamed the Super Stinker, his aircraft is the last design coming from the well-known Pitts Special Line.
Finally, the Smoke n’ Thunder Jet Car is a one-of-a-kind ground-based showstopper. Driver Bill Braack starts the performance by driving past the crowd on the runway and activating the jet car’s afterburner, which shoots out flames up to 20 feet long. Mini sonic booms and billowing smoke can be expected as after-products. It really does get better, however, as the Smoke n’ Thunder Jet Car races close to 400 mph against an overhead plane.
Getting tickets and getting there
Typically, about 150,000 visitors attend the races over the five-day period, making parking and overnight accommodations important. Whether you want to go for just one day or get a three-day pass, you’ll find a variety of ticket options available on the National Championship Air Races website at airrace.org. Purchase options include general admission and grand stand tickets as well as choices for Box Seating, Pit Passes, the Chairman’s Hospitality Tent, Checkered Flag Club and even the Awards Banquet, scheduled on Sunday.
Additionally, there is reserved automobile parking at the field, which provides easy access to the grandstands, pit entrance, box seating and more. Parking also may be paid for at the site. Other options include taking a shuttle in from casino sites, such as the Eldorado Resort Casino, Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, the Nugget Casino Resort Grand Sierra Resort and others.
Visitors also can find numerous vendors on site, selling a variety of food types, Air Race merchandise and more. No matter what your favorite aircraft or your favorite air race or show, you’ll be sure to find plenty to enjoy at the 2016 National Championship Air Races.