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The Reno Air Races, also known as the National Championship Air Races, take place each September at the Reno Stead Airport a few miles north of Reno, Nevada, USA. Air racing is billed as 'the world's fastest motor sport' and Reno is one of the few remaining venues.
Begun in 1964, the Reno Air Races feature multi-lap, multi-aircraft races between extremely high performance aircraft on closed ovoid courses which range between about 3 miles (Biplanes and Formula One) and about 8 miles (Jet, Unlimited) in length per lap.
The first Reno air races, in 1964 and 1965, were organized by World War II flying ace Bill Stead. They took place at Sky Ranch airfield, a dirt strip barely 2,000 feet (610 m) long, which was located in present-day Spanish Springs. After Stead AFB (20 miles to the west, and named in honor of Bill's brother, Croston Stead) was closed in 1966, that field was turned over for public use and the races have been held there since then.
Aircraft in the Unlimited class, which consists almost entirely of both modified and stock World War II fighters, routinely reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour. In 2003, Skip Holm piloted Terry Bland's modified P-51D Mustang, Dago Red, and reached an all-time speed record of 507.105 mph in a six-lap race around the eight-and-a-half mile course. The recently added Sport Class racers, mostly homebuilt aircraft, are already reaching speeds in excess of 350 mph. In 2009, Curt Brown set a record of 538 mph on his jet-engine L-29 Viper.
The Reno Air Races include several days of qualifying followed by four and a half days of multi-aircraft heat racing culminating in the Unlimited Class Gold Race on Sunday afternoon. The event also features civil airshow acts and military flight demonstrations between races, plus vendor areas and a large civil and military static aircraft display.
From 1964 through 2010, 19 aviators lost their lives due to crashes and collisions in the course of the competition and airshow. In 2007, three pilots died over the course of four days in separate incidents. (Gary Hubler, Steve Dari, & Brad Morehouse). Racing was suspended for one day after the last of the three incidents.
On September 16, 2011, a heavily modified P-51D Mustang named "The Galloping Ghost," piloted by Jimmy Leeward, crashed near the stands during the Gold Heat of the race, killing Leeward and 10 spectators and injuring 69. Race organizers cancelled all remaining 2011 races after the accident.
Following some tightening of safety rules, the Reno Air Races resumed in 2012 without major incident.
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