The 2012 Reno Air Races are set to kick off on Wednesday, continuing a nearly 50-year-long tradition that has worked to overcome a number of challenges since the tragic events of last year’s competition.
Qualifying rounds are currently underway, with the first official seven race heats slated to begin Wednesday afternoon.
A number of familiar racers and aircraft have returned to Reno for this year’s event, including Steve Hinton and the highly modified P-51 Strega, as well as the Grumman F8F Bearcat Rare Bear piloted by Stewart Dawson.
As the races kick off, the opening ceremony will feature a tribute to those affected by last year’s tragedy.
In the wake of the Galloping Ghost crash last year – an accident that killed 11 people and injured more than 60 – many in the aviation community questioned whether the Reno Air Races would continue.
In addition to several new regulatory hurdles, the event faced a $1.7 million hike in its insurance premium. A number of key sponsors stepped up to ensure the event overcame its financial challenges, as can be seen in the event’s official new name, the TravelNevada.com Reno National Championship Air Races and Air Show Presented by Breitling.
Additionally, event organizers implemented several changes to ensure racers and spectators alike enjoy a safer event this year. The course has been moved farther away from spectators, increased barriers have been put in place and fuel trucks have been relocated to protect attendees. The courses for the Jet and Unlimited race categories have also been altered so that pilots make softer turns in certain areas.
All in all, more than 50 heats are scheduled to take place between Wednesday and Saturday. Organizers anticipate more than 200,000 people will turn out for this year’s event.