The Reno Championship Air Races brought a week of flight demonstrations and jaw-dropping races

T-6 class racers taxi to the end of the runway before taking off to race.

T-6 class racers taxi to the end of the runway before taking off to race.

People stared at the sky, as jaws dropped in amazement of the power and skill on display at the Reno Championship Air Races.

From Sept.13-17, pilots from across the country and beyond brought their planes to participate in this family tradition that’s become the last event of its kind.

As sport class president and pilot Bob Mills explained, “For the general public, it’s the type of aviation event they can’t see anywhere else, no other show flies this low and close to the crowd so the excitement is there; and nowhere else can you walk through the pits and get close to all of the different planes and pilots.”

Mills was among more than 30 pilots racing in the sport class.

The event drew thousands of spectators to watch the show, which displayed military and private airplanes, and honored service men and women while also sparking amazement in people of all ages as they interacted with pilots and crew members, whenever they weren’t watching the show just 50 feet overhead.

Class after class, pilots lined up and expertly carried out a multi-day event showcasing more than 100 participating airplanes categorized in six classes: Formula One, Biplane, T-6, Sport, Jet, and Unlimited.

“For us, the Air Races are about the team and all of us getting the racing experience, being together and competing to be the best,” said Chris Piedmonte of Austin, Texas, who’s executive director of Phantom Air Racing.

Piedmonte is in charge of organizing the fan base and social outreach, saying the event is sentimental to him as he’s attended for the past 18 years.

Beth Church, also from Texas, was attending the Reno Air Races for the first time alongside Piedmonte and the Phantom Air Racing team.

“I’ve been here for a few days and I really enjoy it; seeing the planes is so interesting and the people out here are of a close-knit community. It’s nice to see everyone helping out in the hangars, for example. I will be back,” she said.

The air boss behind much of the orchestration of the pilots and the schedule of events was Greg “Shifty” Peairs.

The name of the game at the Reno Air Races is speed. As planes darted through the sky and expertly passed one another as they sped through an eight-mile course, Shifty said they reach around 400 mph in speed and every second counts in the races.

“There are a lot of rules. You have to go around the pylon and there is a two-second penalty for every lap if they don’t. There are rules on where and when to pass, which is only on the outside, for the most part. We have judges on every pylon and a contest committee, which act like umpires keeping an eye on where the planes can be — if they go past the show line they are disqualified from that race immediately,” Shifty explained.

The main reason for so many rules is safety for all involved in the event.

Tim Spencer is the emergency services director of the event and a retired Reno firefighter; his mission is to organize teams of first responders throughout the week to keep everyone safe and ensure immediate emergency response in the event of an accident.

“This is a big event for our region, and we need to be as safe as possible so our team has been training in exercises for mass casualties. Thanks to the safety program, when we did have an incident everyone knew exactly what to do,” he said.

“We have 60 to 70 first responders all around the field to keep everyone safe, handle aircraft emergencies, be medics for the crowd, and act in any way that they are needed. They are all completely dressed in full gear and ready to go at any moment,” Spencer added.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.


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