Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Bird's-Eye View of the Reno Air Races

The 49th annual Reno Air Races attracts fans and participants from around the globe.

Story & photos by Eric Cachinero

Pure-pumping adrenaline coupled with incredible horsepower perfectly complemented the heart-pounding vessels traveling near the speed of sound. Although inaudible over the screaming engines of the T-6s, the crowd’s cheers act as a catalyst to these beautiful machines, pumping them faster and faster as they roar around the next pylon.

I attended the 49th annual Reno Air Races on Friday, September 14 at Reno-Stead Airport. Every year, the five-day event draws thousands of national and international spectators to be humbled by this one-of-a-kind spectacle. From daredevil aerobatics performed by David Martin and his Breitling CAP-232, to the neck-and-neck air battles engaged by the Formula Ones, the event has something for all plane enthusiasts.

As pilots warmed their engines in the mid-morning heat and spectators began to find their bearings amongst the crowded grandstands and aircraft pits, a familiar tune rang over the crackling arena speakers. As I removed my hat and squinted toward the sky, the first view of our magnificent stars and stripes being waved in front of the crowd by parachute came into view. I watched on as parachutist and double-amputee Dana Bowman eloquently guided down the flag. The subsequent scream of the F-15s signaled that the welcoming ceremony was a success.

Continuing my way through the pits, I met with Reno pilot David Hults, who guided me through the different classes of aircraft and explained the rules of the races. In a small, ornamented hangar, Hults proudly displayed a plane he occasionally pilots, the 8KCAB Super Decathlon, or as he describes it, “the plane the old-school guys learned to fly on.” Like most pilots who attend this event, Hults is fascinated with the races and admires their unique nature. “It’s one of the only events of its kind,” Hults said. “It pulls people from all over the place.”

As Hults and I neared the next hangar, a yellow biplane with giant batwings painted on the underside came into view. Appropriately named “The Batplane,” the Pitts S-1S gleamed as it awaited its big moment in the races. Owner and racing pilot Casey Erickson has been flying for 20 years and said the 900-pound Batplane is just perfect for her. “I’ve never flown anything as difficult,” she said. “And I absolutely love it.” Erickson owns a flight school in Southern California and never misses a chance to make the annual trek to Reno.

In the distance appeared an icon which I found myself drawn to like a moth to a flame: a tower that prides itself as the symbol that officially greets pilots and participants alike, the air traffic control tower. Militantly painted on each side of this familiar tower are the words “Welcome to Reno Stead Airport Ele. 5,046.”

As a member of the media, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to climb the tower, which offered truly the best seat in the house. I made my way up the seven-story stairwell of the tower and reached the top deck just in time to hear the starting announcement for one of the greatest displays of the day.

With an ear-piercing thunder, The Patriots Jet Team took to the sky in a brilliant display of skill and precision matched with an equally impressive display of color. I watched on as six L-39 jets danced in an aerobatic display that had the crowds on their feet. Impressing both the seasoned pilots with their razor-close passes and families with their vivid trails of red, white, and blue smoke, the Patriots truly earned their place as “the Premier Civilian Owned Jet Aerobatic Team.”

The high-octane, need-for-speed mentality that lives in every single pilot will undoubtedly continue to shine through here for years to come. As Erickson so beautifully sums it up, “When the flag drops, it's full throttle; it's game on.”

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