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Thread: Report from Reno Air Races on Saturday, including pit incident with jet

  1. #1

    Default Report from Reno Air Races on Saturday, including pit incident with jet

    Friend and I went the races on Saturday. Here is my report.


    Only 90d temps but it was sweltering on the tarmac. Arrived at 9am and stayed to the last race of the day. We were pretty tired by the end of the day, and slightly sunburned. According to an exercise app, we walked over 5 miles at the Races. It’s a big tarmac so be prepared to walk a lot if you want to see everything. We saw a lot of people in tank tops, and shorts, and many with no hats. By the end of the day, a lot of people were burnt to a crisp due to their fashion choices and/or lack of sunscreen. If you’re into skin cancer and headaches, more power to you. If not, bring a wide brimmed hat, light colored long sleeve that wicks away moisture, sunglasses, and sunscreen. You’ll be so much happier hanging out at the races for 7+ hours.


    We parked in general parking area in a dirt field ran by the boy scouts. It was $20 to park. We were actually fairly close to the main entrance behind the grandstand seating so it was a short walk to get to the gate. There are some free parking spots along fence lines, but those were all taken by the time we got there.


    Although the website specifically states to ‘print’ your tickets, they had e-scanners at the gate for phones. So you only need the bar code on your phone to get in the gate, vs an actual printed ticket. For pit passes, you have to show your ticket at the pit-pass entrance and they will give you a wrist band.

    Bag check was minimal. Although the website states no big backpacks are allowed, I had a fairly large school backpack that was packed to the max with a beach towels and foam seats for us that I bought online, binoculars, and sunscreen, I only had to open the large compartment and tell them what was inside.

    Seating and Crowds

    There were not nearly as many people there as I had expected. It’s impossible to judge how many people were actually there as the tarmac is really spread out. But I would estimate about half of the pay-for seating in the Reserved Seat Grandstand area was empty, all day. So we walked up the stairs, grabbed the first seats we saw and sat there for a few hours to give our legs a break. We didn’t have a single person sitting around us for the 2 hours that we took a break.

    For newbies, the best seats are generally considered to be the ones highest up on the Grandstands, so if you plan on sitting in the stands for much of the race, pre-buy your tickets many months in advance and select the very top row of seats. Not only do you have the highest view off the tarmac, but also you might get a little extra sun protection on your back, because the top rail is usually covered by large ads hanging off the back. We had paid for seats and selected them 3 rows from the top. But the stands were so empty, we could have sat anywhere, which we did.

    Even watching the show from the tarmac, it was not hard at all to find an opening in the railing for an unobstructed view. The VIP area below the grandstands were almost entirely empty. Either nobody paid for those more expensive seats, it was too hot for them, or they saw the video from the Galloping Ghost disaster.

    Pit Passes

    Get one. Otherwise, you miss out on seeing most of the race planes up close. The racing jets were at the opposite end of the tarmac in an area anyone could enter. While all the rest of the race planes where in the area designed as ‘the pits’, where a separate ticket is required for access.

    Trash Control

    For the love of pilots and planes, hold on to your empty food wrappers, water bottles, stickers, and hats! Saw no less than two hats tumbling across the taxi way, and several empty water bottles ended up all the way on the main runway. If you’re done drinking from a bottle, crunch it up before your throw in the garbage. And make sure you keep every bit of wrapper and trash with your, or wad it up good and toss into a trash can.


    Four of the fastest Unlimited racers in Rarebear, Strega, Voodoo, and Precious Metal did not come this year. I was really bummed on this, as this was my first trip to the Races in many years. The ones that did show up put on a great show, although nobody could come close to keeping up with the 4000hp Dreadnaught.


    Don’t go for the racing. Go for the love of aviation, the pilots, the camaraderie, and the sounds.

    I’ll be honest here, perhaps to the dismay of pilots and fellow race fans. Racing is not the reason to go to the Reno Air Races. Similar to Formula 1, there are almost no lead changes, and very few passes for the entire race. In fact, in the faster classes, such as Sport, Jet, and Unlimited, when they dive down into the race course and make that first turn, that’s exactly how they finished. Obviously this doesn’t happen in every race, and some years are closer than others. But the performance difference between planes in the faster classes seemed huge again this year. For example, in the Unlimited Gold on Sunday, Dreadnaught ran at 403, next closest was 348, then 300, and 239. Not exactly a ‘race’ per say. Only four planes in the finals on Sunday and it was not even close. Jets were a little closer with top jet at 495, followed by 488 but then 437, 435, 428, 425, and 415. Again, not even close. That’s just how the plane racing goes.

    I’m a huge aviation fan since I was born, and love all the classes out here, but personally I find the actual ‘racing’ of the slower planes to be more enjoyable. It’s a much smaller course so you can see most of what’s happening. And the planes seem to be a lot closer in performance so you can actually get some passes which adds to the excitement. The STOL airplanes were also fun to watch. Incredible pilots in these unique aircraft and it’s hilarious to cheer them on as they demonstrate the awesome capabilities of these unique aircraft.

    That being said, just seeing the all planes fly is enjoyable enough and worth the price of admission. That is why you should go. Racing or not, seeing a Hawker Sea Fury rip around the course at 400+ is plenty enough to get my blood pumping. I felt the need to mention this because I went with a friend who had never been. He's not an aviation enthusiast but a total gear head with cars. He was keen to see the speeds and told me he imagined 20 planes in the air racing wingtip to wingtip with lots of laps and lots of lead changes, similar to a car race. Although he oved seeing them fly around the course, he admitted he was a little disappointed at the ‘racing’ aspect of the event. So perhaps this will give some newbies perspective on what to expect.

    Dark Shadow “Race 11” Incident

    At the east end of the tarmac were the military jets, as well as the racing jets. We were walking through the racing jet area when we came upon a beautiful all black DeHavilland Vampire jet called “Dark Shadow,” piloted by Jerry Kirby of the “Race 11” team. As we’re walking right next to the jet, we see these two (crew?) guys in a golf cart, (looking in their late 20’s) driving the cart from behind the jet near the tail and going towards the left wing of the aircraft. Keep in mind it’s extremely tight inside the ropes where the aircraft are, so my first thought was wtf do you need to be driving a golf cart for, inside such a tight area?

    Suddenly, the passenger in the golf cart casually tells the driver “Shawn, lookout. Stop. Shawn Stop!” Crunch! The top of the golf cart went into left wing tip, causing a bit of damage to the wingtip and possibly the flap. The guys immediately got out and picked up the golf cart and were picking it up and pushing it backwards with a lot of frustration. The passenger in the golf cart left to go get help. Then a third (crew guy) who actually looks like he knows what he’s doing walked over to quickly to assess the damage. The look of stress this third guy’s face said it all.

    Meanwhile, Shawn, the guy who drove the cart into the jet stood there and looked genuinely distressed. He had to sit down and looked like he was ready to cry. A woman went over to console him, as the third guy shows up again with some tools and immediately starts taking apart the wing tip. Could not believe the pilot and race crew would allow a golf cart to be driven in such a tight area.

    After looking at the military aircraft, we walked back by Dark Shadow. This was about an 45m later, and Shawn was still sitting there against the RV, looking distraught and being consoled by another woman. Poor kid must have felt like the biggest idiot in the world. The wingtip piece was now removed entirely, and probably being worked on in a hangar.

    Fast forward to the jet heat, later in the day. By now, my friend and I had walked to the west end of the tarmac. With binoculars, we could see they towed “Dark Shadow” out on the flightline with the other racers. But as the other jets were fired up and taxied out, “Dark Shadow” just sat there. Enter the tow vehicle to tow him back to his pit. He missed the race. Adding insult to injury, “Dark Shadow” was the fastest jet qualifier at a whopping 511mph. Ouch! He ended up not racing on Sunday either and the pilot stated on Facebook they “could not overcome a mechanical issue”. I have no idea if it was the problem Shawn caused but obviously some lessons to be learned here for any plane owner. Don’t allow anyone named Shawn to drive a golf cart around your aircraft!

    Final Thoughts

    I have to give a lot of props to everyone for putting on a great show again. It takes a massive amount of effort, lots of money, time, volunteers, and most all, the pilots who risk everything to do what they love and put on a great show for everyone. Thanks so much!

    I do wonder about the future though, especially for the T6 and Unlimited class. These war planes were built in the 40’s and the airframes are well beyond their life expectancy. Add the extreme modifications to push the planes well beyond what they were engineered for. Then add the increasing cost and difficulty to maintain in perfect running condition, and it seems inevitable the Unlimited class will eventually lose most if it’s war planes to retirement and/or pilots retiring. So get out to the Races and see ‘em while they’re still around. Who knows what the future holds for this unique event.
    Last edited by Emily; 09-16-2019 at 01:40 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Houston, TX

    Default Re: Report from Reno Air Races on Saturday, including pit incident with jet

    Nice report!

  3. #3

    Default Re: Report from Reno Air Races on Saturday, including pit incident with jet

    Thanks for taking the time to write this, I didnít know the story about the Vampire.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2002

    Default Re: Report from Reno Air Races on Saturday, including pit incident with jet

    The vampire wingtip ding was very minor. A little bodywork and it came out straighter than it was before it was hit. The DNS was due to engine / system related issues. They scratched on Saturday, then spent the evening replacing the starter and working on a couple other things. On Sunday, the jet still would not start.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2019
    Phoenix AZ

    Default Re: Report from Reno Air Races on Saturday, including pit incident with jet

    That was a great report, thank you! The crowd did look light from the view on the live feed.

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