2022 STIHL National Championship Air Races

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Stead Airport, Reno, Ca

Story and photos by Jeff Serpa

The Reno Air Races. If you know, you know. If you don’t, you should. The Reno Air Races have been taking place for more then 50 years, featuring several racing classes, a large display of static aircraft with military and civilian flight demonstrations. Officially known as the STIHL National Championship Air Races since 2016, this is a multi-day event is tailored to the aviation community that takes place each September at Stead Airport, in Nevada.

September 14th, 2022 kicked off multiple days of qualifying and racing at Stead Airport. The races were slowed right out the gate due the Northern California Wildfires burning in the area. The smoke was so bad at times, visibility was down to 1.5 miles as a U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter was on approach trying to land at the airport. There we some delays, cancellations and moves made, but the races went on.

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Over the next several days, engines roared, crowds cheering and hearts pounding as they watched planes 50 feet above the ground, at speeds of up to more than 500 mph. From Bi-planes, to Jets, T-6’s, the unlimited class and many more, the Reno Air Races are a thrill to watch up close and personal.

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In between races, there were several flight demonstrations including the USAF-22 Raptor Demo Team. With the Raptor Demo Team came the USAF Heritage flight featuring the F-22 Raptor and a vintage P-51 Mustang. The USN F-18 Tactical Demo Team put on a display as well as performed a Legacy flight for the crowd. The US Coast Guard provided a Search and Rescue demonstration.

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The Air Races had many amazing pilots who brought their skills to the next level during their racing. This year there were 2 pilots who were no strangers to aerial flight demonstrations. Former USAF Thunderbirds Fight Demonstration Pilots Michael “Thorny” Brewer and Trevor “Dozen” Aldridge each participated in the Air Races. Thorny flew a Christian Eagle affectionately named “Big Cat”. Big Cat is dedicated to Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, Thunderbird #4, who tragically lost his life during a routine Thunderbirds Training sortie. The Christian Eagle flew this year in Cajun’s name to keep his dream alive and to honor his memory.

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Dozen came into the Reno Air Races flying a SW-51 Carbon Mustang. The SW-51 is a 70% scale Carbon Mustang. The SW-51 Carbon Mustang is a brand new build and flew flawlessly.

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As the weekend progressed the smoke dissipated and by Sunday a full race day was in full swing. Sunday afternoon as the Jet Gold Class entered the 3rd lap, an L-29 Super Delfin went down on the back section of the race course. Sadly the pilot did not survive and this suspended all operations for the 2022 event.

Editor’s note: Since this article was written, startling news has been released by the organizers.

To Our Loyal Fans and Passionate Community
Posted on March 9, 2023

It is with heavy hearts that we write this to let you know that, after nearly 60 years of air racing in northern Nevada, 2023 will be the last National Championship Air Races at the Reno-Stead Airport. While we knew this day might come, we had hoped it wouldn’t come so soon. Citing the region’s significant growth amongst other concerns, the Reno Tahoe Airport Authority has made the decision to sunset the event. For so many around the world, Reno has become synonymous with air racing and it is hard to imagine the National Championship Air Races gracing any other skies than those in the Sierra Nevada. However, we are confident the event will continue. In fact, we are currently exploring several other possible locations to host the event in the future but it starts with making this year’s event the biggest and most successful it can be. In essence, the future of the National Championship Air Races starts now. And, we need your help.

As we take off for one last time in Reno, we are inviting the community and race fans from all over the world to join to send off the National Championship Air Races in style. Consider it a celebration of six decades of thrills, history, pageantry, camaraderie and family. Reno has been the event’s home for the last 59 years, and we could not leave without recognizing the community that has embraced our event and helped make it one of our region’s signature events. We look forward to seeing the many faces the Air Races have brought joy to over the years, as well as new ones who will get the chance to see the only racing event of its kind for the first time this year.

While we discuss the future of the Air Races, we are grateful for our time at the Reno-Stead Airport and our partnership with the Reno Tahoe Airport Authority. Our event has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the local economy, while instilling a love for flying in the community and becoming a valued partner to many charities and non-profits. We have always been so thrilled to show off the beautiful Reno Tahoe area to the tens of thousands that flew in just for our event and we’re looking forward to doing that again this year. The support from both our community and visitors has been overwhelming, and the impact they helped us make in Reno is immeasurable.

The last National Championship Air Races will take place from September 13-17. The 2023 event is set to return with more than 150 planes and pilots as well as several ‘hands-on’ displays and experiences including the GRADD-NVBAA STEM Education Discovery Zone, heritage displays, military demonstrations and static displays and more. The event will also mark the third year of competition for the STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) Drag which has become a phenomenon in the skies. While this is our last year at this location, the Reno Air Racing Association is committed to preserving and growing this great event and developing the next generation of Air Race fans. We look forward to seeing you in September. You can save your spot now by purchasing tickets at www.AirRace.org

With much appreciation and love,

The Reno Air Racing Association Board of Directors

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