Jets Celebrate Reno Races As STOL-Drag Class Officially Added

An inexpensive, light taildragger, and terrific stick and rudder skills, are all you need to race in the STOL Drag class at the STIHL National Championship Air Races. Tony Cruz & Mark E. Loper

The 2020 STIHL National Championship Air Races near Reno, Nevada, was set to officially open its doors to spectators on September 16. However, as with all major air-show events planned after March of this year, the coronavirus pandemic put a lid on the excitement for this week. The annual event, in which racers of various airplane types battle in formation around closed pylon courses low over the desert-land adjacent to the Reno/Stead Airport, is scheduled to return next year, September 15 through 19.

While the cancelled event is a big blow, there was some good news for air race fans this week. According to Kevin Quinn, the creator of STOL Drag, the FAA signed off on the official “letter of accreditation” for the new STOL Drag race class. The Reno Air Race Association announced plans for the new class last October—the first to be added in nearly two decades. The event now includes seven classes: STOL Drag, Formula 1, Biplane, Sport, T-6, Jet and Unlimited.

STOL Drag is a backcountry flying duel: Two airplanes fly back and forth over a 2,000-foot course with dust and dirt swirling as they come to a complete stop at each end. Stick and rudder skills take precedence over massive powerplants, and the class is open to anyone who is interested in trying to qualify. Quinn said the STIHL NCAR STOL Drag class will include three categories: Unlimited, Silver and Bronze, allowing pilots of various levels to be competitive.

The ever-growing High Sierra Fly-In, where STOL Drag was conceived, is set to take place in October at the Dead Cow lakebed. However, this year the event will be limited to racers only, since Nevada limits gatherings to a maximum of 50 people in light of the pandemic.

While the STIHL NCAR was cancelled for this year, some of the race pilots wanted to remind the local community that the event is still very much alive. Around lunchtime on September 19, several smoke trailing jets will fly over the Reno area in celebration of the event. “We miss seeing the fans and want to let them know we aren’t going anywhere,” said Jeff Turney, founding member of jet racing at the STIHL National Championship Air Races. “We can’t wait for 2021.” The schedule for the flyby can be found here.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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