Come September—most every year—kids head back to school and the pilots who wish to test their skills in hot competition return to Reno, Nevada.
The Reno Air Racing Association’s Stihl National Championship Air Races kick off this week, with qualifying rounds beginning today, and official heats beginning Wednesday, September 14, and running through the weekend. The event brings a total of 151 airplanes, 155 pilots, and a complete airshow experience to the skies above and around the Reno/Stead Airport (KRTS).
RARA announced the competitor lineups in late July. BARDAHL Special, a P-51 Mustang that finished second overall at the very first Reno Air Races in 1964 while winning the Unlimited finale, plans its return, among many others.
A Sad Note for the Unlimited Class
One of the most anticipated matchups was to occur in the Unlimited Gold Trophy series between Sea Fury Dreadnought, P-51 Miss America, and Czech Mate, a Yak-11 returning after a five-year hiatus. However, those hopes were cruelly dashed when Czech Mate lost power on takeoff from Minter Field (KMIT) near Bakersfield, California, during a return-to-service test flight on September 2. Pilot Sherman Smoot was killed in the ensuing accident.
The Unlimited class is full of competitors that will carry on in Smoot’s memory.
Biplanes—and STOL Drag
In the Biplane class, Maj. Michael Brewer, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird—who flew on the demonstration team from 2018–2022 as both Thunderbird No. 3 and Thunderbird No. 4—returns to Reno as a competitor this year. Brewer was at the races previously in 2019 and 2021, and this year is making his debut as a racer in No. 44, Big Cat.
STOL Drag is back for its second year as a full class, with 20 competitors looking to take home the championship in the short takeoff and landing “drag race” that has captured pilots’ imaginations.
Demonstrations and Prizes
Peppering the skies further will be demonstrations by the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor, U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet, a U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight, a U.S. Navy Legacy Flight, aircraft from Jim Peitz Aerosports, and the Gamebird GB-1.
In addition to the racing action, the National Aviation Heritage Invitational will present its competition for aircraft more than 45 years old to vie for trophy recognition in the following categories: antique, classic, contemporary, military, and large aircraft. A five-member judging team will review the entrants during the show—and folks attending will be able to vote for crowd favorites.
Tickets for the races can be purchased online or by calling 1-800-514-3849 ahead of the event. For more information, visit AirRace.org.