Reno Air Races: A Look Back

After a year of tragedy and challenges, the Reno Air Races are back this week, continuing a nearly 50-year-long tradition.

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The Reno Air Races were started in 1964 by Bill Stead, a hydroplane racer and World War II ace. Here T-6 racers come around the turn.
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The event has been held annually ever since, drawing thousands of spectators every year. Here a Grumman Bearcat racer sitting pretty as Texans roar past behind.
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The races were initially held at Sky Ranch airfield, a dirt strip just 2,000 ft long. They moved to Reno Stead Airport a few years later and have taken place there ever since. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Reno was a big fly-in destination. Every year hundreds of GA airplanes would arrive for the races.
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The annual Reno event is one of the few remaining of its kind, and was started largely to replace the National Air Races, which ended in 1949. The history of air racing itself predates World War I. Here a Formula 1 racer taxies out.
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From the beginning, T-6 racing has been hugely popular at Reno. These relatively affordable, very competitive racers always put on a good show.
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Races are organized according to aircraft classes, which have evolved over the years and now include biplanes, sport aircraft and an unlimited category, among others. Here Formula 1 racers line up and wait for their turn to race.
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During the race, records aren't the only things up for grabs. Pilots also compete for what is now approximately $1 million in prize money. These days, however, smoking is no longer allowed in the pits or in the airplanes.
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**In a sport where speed is king, competing aircraft generally undergo extensive modification, after which they are pushed to the limit. Here a crew hurries to r****eady Ken Bernstein****'s Miss Suzi Q**** for action.
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Since the beginning at Reno, mustangs have dominated the racing scene. In this photo, well-known racer Skip Holm taxies out in T****he Healer.
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Unlimited racers round a pylon and accelerate for the straight away.
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**Against blue skies, a modified P-51 rounds a pylon.
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The nature of air racing is that it is done in close proximity to the ground. Without this crucial element, the races would cease to be. While rounding pylons, unlimited racers push speeds of 400 mph with the pilots pulling high G loads.
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For more on the recent accident, read Robert Goyer's latest update.