The Liberty Gazette
September 8, 2009
September 8, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Mike: One summer weekend after high school graduation, my dad, younger brother and I took a drive up to California’s high desert, past the legendary Edwards Air Force Base to the small community of Mojave. We went to watch a race. “Unlimited class” air racing is the world’s fastest motor sport. Highly modified WWII aircraft race around a course laid out by pylons at speeds approaching 550 mph. At the time the sport was trying to expand beyond Reno to Mojave, Las Vegas, and even Miami. However, economics of the time prevented expansion and the high powered event returned to its famed 1964 starting location at The World’s Biggest Little City; Reno, Nevada.
Linda: This year the 46th Annual National Championship Air Races and Air Show will take place at Reno Stead Field, September 16th through the 20th. While not the world’s largest convention (that title belongs to AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which took place last month), the air races at Reno draw over 150 racers and a crowd of over 200,000 gathered to watch exciting lap races and drag race style events.
Mike: Out of six racing classes the Biplanes make their way around a 3.18-mile course at just over 200 mph. The nearly 250 mph class of Formula One races around a 3.12-mile course, and the Sport class bumps up the speed to 350 mph, taking up over six miles on the course. These Sport class planes are high performance kit built planes. The WWII advanced trainer, the T-6 “Texan” is of course in a class by itself, and lays claim to the noisiest of all. They race at speeds of up to 230 mph on a course just over five miles long. It takes nearly eight and a half miles for the jets to complete a lap, traveling at about 500 mph, but the war birds in the Unlimited class have them beat. Highly modified P-51s, F-8F Bearcats and the British-built Hawker Sea Fury scream around the same course the jets use, flying as fast as 550 mph. In the tradition of WWII flight crews, race planes have nicknames, like Nemesis, Blackjack, and Gunslinger. There’s Rare Bear, a highly modified Grumman Bearcat, Miss America, a North American P-51 Mustang, and a Hawker Sea Fury called Spirit of Texas.
When flying fast and low, an airplane’s visibility is important for other pilots picking it out from surrounding ground clutter. Flashy bright color schemes are as much for safety as for show, and make Reno a photographer’s paradise. And to a real fan, a pit pass, if one can be had, is worth its weight in gold.
Linda: There is a world class air show at Reno, too. The lineup includes almost every top performer on the circuit today, including the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels. These might be tough acts to follow but at the end of the day, it’s the sights and sounds of low-level high-speed racers that draw the crowds to Reno.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.