Stead Airport, Reno, Nevada
Photos and article 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 STHL 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.