A Personal Look at the 2018 Reno Air Races

Reno 2018 (713-2)

Ever since I was a very young boy, I’ve had a dream of making it to Stead Field in Nevada for the Reno Air Races. Whether it was family commitments, finances, Army training, or deployments, something always seemed to come up keeping me from attending. Finally, this past September, I was able to fulfill that dream.

Growing up near (practically ‘at’) Van Nuys Airport in Southern California, I would regularly see air racers such as ‘Rare Bear’, ‘Risky Business’, ‘Misfit’, ‘The Healer’, ‘The Believer’, ‘The Miracle Maker’, and ‘Snoopy’. I remember seeing other famous Unlimited racers such as ‘White Lightning’, ‘Cottonmouth’, ‘Miss America’, and ‘Dago Red’ on occasion as well. This not only aided in fueling my passion for aviation in general, it helped create a dream to one day watch them rounding the pylons at this famed event. Although I was fortunate enough to make it to the Phoenix 500, and even though I was ecstatic that I was able to see my favorite plane race at least one time, (the ‘Super Corsair’) it still did not satisfy my desire to attend Reno. Unfortunately, the Super Corsair ended up crashing that year destroying the magnificent aircraft. Luckily, Kevin Eldridge made it out in time before the aircraft hit the ground at over 400 miles per hour.

I make it to a lot of air shows in the west throughout the year. I’ve even been to several across the country as well. While there is still camaraderie between a lot of aviation photographers at most shows I go to, it’s nothing like the camaraderie, (almost a sense of family) that I felt between the amazing group of people I met at Reno. It’s not just covering an air show or an air race, it was a unique experience that I’ll never forget. It goes without saying that I look forward to going back, but not just for the breathtaking sights and sounds that Reno produces, but also for all the remarkable people I met during the week I was there.

Being out on the pylons was an unbelievable experience. Once again though, not just for the awe-inspiring photographic opportunities, but the friendliness of pylon judges and photographers alike. The willingness of everyone to share knowledge, tips, and tricks that they have all learned throughout the years of coming to this event amazed me. The judges were very accepting to us being out there. What’s more is they were willing to speak with us in between races answering any questions we had. A safety briefing was given when we first arrived each day explaining rules to keep us safe as well as letting us know our limits as to how close to the line in between pylons we could get. Out at Pylon ‘Inner 5’, I had the pleasure of talking to pylon judges Greg Parsons, Dan Nicholas, Lyn and Dean Patmor, Jim Price, and Kirk Burress. I asked them what they felt was the best part of their job, specifically what kept them volunteering to come back. They said they really enjoyed the relationships they built with the pilots, watching them improve, then going back to talk to them after the races. Of course, being out at the pylons wasn’t a bad gig either as explained by Burress, “There’s nothing more exciting than a plane going over a pylon.”

Nowhere else have I gone where I have seen that many photographers so willing to help in any and every way they could. There were no, “let the new guy figured it out” attitudes. From best lighting, pylon choice, sharing info about sunrise/sunset photo shoots, to post race parties, everyone I came across seemed to want nothing more than to help everyone have an incredible time.

Kelly Glenn, along with her entire staff, were extremely accommodating. Plus, they did their very best to ensure that everyone had the best possible experience they could have. For me, they not only succeeded, but far exceeded any expectations I had going into this event.

Reno is not just another air show, nor is it just a few air races. It is an incredible blend of both. I do not know how someone can only come to 1 or 2 days of this event. While you would be able to experience a lot, I was there for an entire week and feel like there was so much more to see.

As far as the actual racing goes, there are several classes of racing including: Formula One, Biplane, Sport, T-6, Jet, and of course, the Unlimited. Joel Sawger took home the Unlimited Gold in the well-known Sea Fury ‘Dreadnought’ with no real competition outside of maybe ‘Miss America’ and ‘Sawbones’. But in reality, unless Dreadnought cut a pylon or had a malfunction, there was never really any chance for anyone to catch him. A full list of race results for all classes can be found at http://reports.airrace.org/2018/index.html

While there were no real ‘Super Unlimiteds’ this year, there is hope that they will return soon. With or without them though, there was talk of an increased number of warbirds in next year’s races. Whether that comes to fruition or not, I will do my best to find myself there once again. Now that I’ve finally fulfilled a childhood dream, I’m hungry for more.

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Steve Lewis

Steve is a Southern California based photographer living in the Los Angeles area.

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