With the announcement that this September will mark the end of the nearly 60 years of the Reno Air Races, I thought I would mention my experiences there over the years.
I’ve written about some of those experiences here, here, and here.
I started going there in the late 70s, a 2.5 hour jaunt up I-80 from Sacramento. Then (if you were lucky) no wait heading north from Reno a few miles along US 395 to Stead Field. For many years I used to make it an annual pilgrimage. I’m a bit embarrassed to say in later years I got a bit jaded wondering if “this year” I would see something new and exciting. Of course, then I realized that what I was seeing, after the great air race venues of the 30s, was probably the last of its kind.
It was all the more remarkable by the huge increase in the value of these old warplanes. I believe that the top prize for the Gold Division – the Unlimiteds – was something like $100,000? Which was huge in 1964, its first year, when one could buy a Mustang for $10,000 and go racin’. Now with fewer than 100 airworthy Mustangs, with the value of the remainder worth in the millions, even winning wouldn’t cover the expenses I would think.
Those who did race did it because of the love of the race and they were very wealthy.
In WW2, the B-29 was a technological marvel. I am bringing these facts from my old memory, but they probably came from James Bradley’s great book, Flyboys. To develop and produce 4,000 B-29s, the government spent as much money as the Manhattan Project.
We learned about the jet stream from the B-29. Even with the Norden bombsight at high altitudes, bombardiers were missing the targets by a wide margin.
The morning started out easily enough. I was trying to Google a Waco YMF-5 with a glass cockpit that I’d seen in AOPA magazine, but the article wasn’t on line. It did lead me to a jaunt through the Elysian Fields of 21st Century, open-cockpit biplanes. Starting at ~$350k. Which is a lot, it seems to me. For an open cockpit biplane. Before you add the Garmin G1000 **glass cockpit.
So, I’ve been searching the aviation websites in my off moment or two, chiefly for the distraction that’s in it. In between wondering what that whole Civil Air Patrol ** gas is, what it is they do, how does one get in, how much does it cost and would they really make a retired naval aviator wear those ghastly bus driver suits? And it seems to me there are a world of options out there, so long as you’re only dreaming. Airplane ownership being about the only thing more expensive than supporting an equestrienne, not to mention AVGAS selling at $5 to the gallon, and gallons turning to vapor at an average rate of nine to the hour.
Over the years, I have accrued a number of nice memories of the Reno Air Races. I’ve met “Pappy” Boyington, Bob Hoover, and seen things that can’t be seen anywhere else.
I have a print I bought from Major Boyington signed – in 1984. I read his autobiography – he had a terrible time in the Japanese concentration camp (it should go without saying) and post war, an awful time. But he pulled through. He’s at Arlington, now.
One thing has changed – well, a number of things. For one, the “Unlimiteds” have become so fast the starter plane changed from a yellow Mustang – piloted by Bob Hoover, to a T-33 jet. They have an L-39 class now – that ubiquitous Czech trainer that the wealthy have embraced. That Merlin – stock was 1,500 hp, is over 3,500 now.
If you go there a pit pass is almost mandatory – you wander among all these magnificent planes.
T-28 Trojan was an outgoing primary trainer when I started flight school. It hosted a Wright R-1820-86 Cyclone radial engine with 1,425 hp under the cowl, and was thought to be a real handful for your first flyer. You could volunteer for T-28s, but I went with the simpler T-34 as more sedate and “jet-like.”
Photo Courtesy of FlightAware.com
Trojan students told us that if you reached the airplane for preflight and it wasn’t leaking oil, the machine was down.
Two days ago, I had an interesting flight. The EAA has been flying 2 of these around the country, stopping at various cities and offering rides to the public.
For $75, I got a ticket. I thought that was quite a bargain, considering the cost of flight these days.
We took off from Sacramento’s Executive Airport for an 18 minute flight around the city.
I think the Trimotor was historic for being one of the first true airliners (not a mail plane that could haul passengers). But between the Depression and the coming DC-2 I think it had a pretty short service life.