Reno’s “Rookie School” Prepares Air Racers for NCAR

Flight and ground instruction program trains pilots for pylon racing.

Formation flying skills are essential for Reno race pilots.Marilyn Newton

A total of 24 new candidates for the STIHL National Championship Air Races—the heart pumping annual competition at the Reno-Stead Airport in Nevada—recently completed the training required to participate in the races. The Pylon Racing Seminar is a six-day program that includes ground and flight instruction designed to teach the rules and procedures that make the races as safe as possible and fine tune the formation skills required to fly around the pylons close to several other airplanes.

“Seeing new racers discover the love of head-to-head racing, mastering their skill and doing it all with our incredible veteran instructors makes for a fun week,” said Fred Telling, CEO and chairman of the Reno Air Racing Association. The PRS training is required for rookie racers before they can compete. It is also required for certified racers every three years. A total of 80 pilots, including rookies, certified racers and instructors, came to Stead in June for the course.

This year’s STIHL NCAR will take place from September 15 to 19. There are seven race classes: Unlimited, Jets, Formula 1, Biplane, Sport, T6 and Stol Drag, a completely different race class that was introduced in 2019—the last year the races were conducted. The 2020 event was cancelled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to watching the races, spectators can expect impressive airshows each day that include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, flying tight formation in their F-16 Fighting Falcons; F-22 Raptor Demonstrations; Jim Peitz, flying aerobatics in a Bonanza; and much more. The National Heritage Invitational, featuring stellar examples of airworthy airplanes 45 years or older, will also be on the show grounds.

To get a feel for what the Pylon Racing Seminar is like, see The Art of Air Racing.