Photos & Story by Lance Phillips
Reno, Nevada. A little town surrounded by mountains and beauty. Just across the ridge from Tahoe. A place where a visitor could potentially go to church, hit the bar, wager on craps, and see exotic dancers, all on one block.
Reno also happens to be the place where every year in September, since 1964, the National Championship Air Races take place. These races are the last of their kind; started by Bill Stead in the tradition of the Cleveland Air Races of the early 1900s. It’s a place where vintage propeller-driven warbirds, among other classes of aircraft, routinely race in close formation while approaching the sound barrier.
The airfield on which the current races take place is called Reno-Stead Airport, located north of town off of Highway 395, not to be confused with Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which lies closer to town. Reno-Stead is rich with tradition, and it has a kind of grittiness not unlike the feeling and texture of the film “The Right Stuff.”
Views Around Reno-Stead
One of the highlights of my life as a pilot was flying a prototype for Mooney Aircraft to Reno-Stead and landing on the main north-south runway. The Mooney airplane, an M20V Acclaim Ultra, was on display for the week of the Air Races.
We landed in El Paso, Texas on the way to Reno to refuel and get some lunch at L&J Cafe (which is highly recommended, by the way). It’s amazing that we were just about half way to Reno and still not out of Texas. What a huge State.
Strega - The Witch
Powered by a WWII-vintage Rolls Royce Merlin engine, Strega, which means witch in Italian, is a highly-modified P-51 Mustang that likes to go extremely fast, and likes to win.
An Experience Like No Other
You may be thinking, “yeah, whatever, old warbirds flying around the mountains, not a big deal.” But believe me, National Championship Air Racing is something extremely special and if you’re a racing fan of any kind, it is something to add to the bucket list. In 2019, the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbird demonstration team plans to fly at Reno for daily shows. That is also something not to be missed. A&A