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Reno National Championship Air Races
Pylon Racing Training School 2003

Noise Speed and Propellers Pylon Racing School

Reno Air Races Update

click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowThe morning of June 19th will bring noise, speed and propellers to the skies over Stead. As the empty ramp awaits fledgling racers, we will await their true tests of airmanship. This upcoming stellar group of aviators will gather at Reno-Stead Airport to begin yet another challenge in their aviation careers.

The ultimate challenge.

Observe — Someone buys a 50 plus year old airplane for an amount of money they certainly could never justify, even to the shrewdest of accountants. Now, they gather together in groups of six or eight of these airplanes —in close formation with each other— in the sky near Stead. With spilt-hair timing, they will point the noses of their WW II era airplanes toward the desert sands at redline power click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowwhile accelerating to redline airspeeds. Then when they are only 50 feet above the cement-hard desert floor, they will level off and almost immediately roll into a 70-85 degree banked turn, trying to stay as close as possible to the 48 foot pylons scattered all over the northern acres of Stead Airport. And remember, they are not there alone. The other racers in this formation are all aiming for the same point in space and time.

In the true spirit of competition, only the fastest and smoothest racers will get to that pylon first. The others will take space just outside their leader — but only by a few feet.

Is this insanity, or what? What draws successful businessmen and professional aviators to test their envelope? The challenge begins.

But first, they must plan the flight, then fly the plan —Precisely—

This year, the plan unfolds at the Reno Hilton starting on Thursday, June 19, at 2 p.m. with a Welcome and Introduction by Joey Scolari, Chairman of the Reno Air Racing Association. Following Joey, the World of Air Racing will be presented by the Director of Operations, Bill Eck and several of the other dedicated, committed professionals who click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowmake the Pylon Racing Seminar as safe as they possibly can — considering the environment these racers will face. Trust that everything has been considered and well thought out. Many details must be addressed by this group of professionals, including: Contest Rules; Crash Fire and Rescue (CFR) resources; FAA rules and waivers; Pylon Judges views and how race laps are timed, just to name a few.

Unfolding the plan one more page, Mike Houghton, President and CEO of the Reno Air Races and Jeff Turney, Air Boss, will lay down the precise rules of engagement, but only one time. If the racer misses what's said then, they will get yet another chance to understand the rules when the different classes of racers breakout to brief their specific class' rules and plan.

click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowLeast we not forget the behind-the-scenes efforts of Mike’s staff (air racing’s more dedicated professionals): Dave, Ellen, Kathy and Anita. Thank you for all you do. For without your help, none of this would be possible. Sometime during the weekend, each racer will have the pleasure of your company.

This first afternoon meeting will present many, many years of experience and planning. These RARA officials are unpaid professionals who have dedicated an enormous amount of their time and energy to make the Reno Air Races what they are today — the fastest motor sport in the world — and the only place in the world where racers can take their steeds and themselves to the ultimate limit.

Let’s move on to the challenge.

click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowFriday and Saturday, June 20 - 21, class is in session. From 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. copious amounts of 100LL Aviation fuel will be converted to noise and speed. From the mighty Formula 1 racers to the agile Biplanes, from the new and sleek Sport class racer to the venerable T-6 warbirds and from the group of unlimited modification larger, faster warbirds, to the Czechoslovakian L-39 Jet trainers. All will circle the pylons just a few feet north of Stead's east-west runway and only a few feet above the desert, learning the ways of closed-course pylon racing.

Then on Sunday, June 22nd, their opportunity will exist only until 1:00 PM. This will give newly qualified racers the time to return to the reality of their everyday work and home.

click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowBy some, air racing is considered the final frontier. So far, this may be true. But, to take themselves and their valued airplanes through this very demanding course will require physical and mental stamina, and the agonizing anxiety of the unknown —of themselves and their airplanes— not to mention the unknowns of the other racers on the course at the same time.

What brings normally sane aviators to act this way? Is it the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat? No — it's the challenge of competition. Their challenge is to take their many years of flying experience and bring it to a new high level of skill, in a very new low level world!

Go back years ago when your flight instructor tried to teach you how to push and pull on the elevator, how to squeeze just the right amount of rudder at the exact time needed to stay in coordinated flight. Remember when you had to roll into a steep turn leaning forward to scan the airspace ahead and to the side of you without losing any altitude in the process? You were at least 1500 feet above the ground, we hope. Now try that very click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowsame maneuver at 50 feet above the ground challenging yourself to stay as close as possible to the upcoming pylon. Not enough of a challenge? Let's put another airplane six feet off of your right wing tip trying to do the same maneuver. Ladies and gentlemen, this sport is not for the weak at heart.

Air racing requires a personal dedication that will keep you up at nights. And when exhaustion takes over, you'll fly the race course in your dreams. Your dreams will make you think about the possible engine failures, the turkey buzzards that could fly up into you flight path, and the dust devil that will make you wish you had more aileron throw just to stay wings level. Even in your sleep, the adrenaline will peak enough to break beads of sweat in your cool, comfortable Reno-Hilton room.

That’s the price that’s paid to race airplanes. And by Saturday morning, many of these racers will be at the airport hours before the morning briefing just to rub on their airplanes. That really means checking the oil and fuel levels, and tightened panel screws. Those click on image to enlarge in pop-up windowannoying little prop nicks take on a whole new meaning in air racing. Can that inspection panel with the pan-head screws be changed to flush screws? That mist of oil on the leading edge of the cowling will really change the airflow. Every remnant of flying creatures that have gone before us on the leading edge of the wing will affect airflow... Clean it off.

To all racers, this weekend is a flight school. Some will come away saying this is exactly what they envisioned it to be. Others will convince themselves that they may not be totally up to the challenge. Either way, each person attending the Pylon Racing Seminar will come away with a new understanding of aviation and of themselves.

About The Author: Steve Dilda is an active flight instructor in all areas of aviation including warbird aerobatics and formation flying. He currently serves as the President of the T-6 Racing Association, T-6 Check Pilot and Pace Pilot for the Reno National Championship Air Races. In his spare time, Steve "flies boxes" for a major United States cargo airline and manages his wife Mary's Air Show and Air Race Team.


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