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©Bill Pekala 2022

As I make my way to the Reno Air Races, a bittersweet feeling washes over me, for this might be my last time experiencing the thrilling spectacle of high-speed aircraft zooming through the Nevada skies. The Reno Air Races have always held a special place in my heart, with their unique blend of aviation prowess and adrenaline-pumping excitement. The roar of the engines, the precision of the pilots, and the camaraderie among fellow aviation enthusiasts create an atmosphere that’s truly electrifying. As I watched these incredible machines push the limits of speed and skill, I couldn’t help but reflect on the rich history of air racing in the United States.

©Bill Pekala 2022

In contrast to airshows where aerobatics and stunts are the main attraction, air racing is all about speed and precision. Pilots navigate a specific course, racing against the clock and each other, sometimes at breathtakingly low altitudes.

Air racing in the US has a storied past dating back to the early 20th century. It gained widespread popularity during the “Golden Age of Aviation” in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when daring pilots like Jimmy Doolittle and Roscoe Turner captured the nation’s imagination with their fearless feats. Air racing was then a testbed for innovation, pushing the boundaries of aircraft design and technology. These races often took place at the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio, which attracted thousands of spectators.

National Air Races – Cleveland Ohio

During the early days of air racing in the United States, a handful of daring aviators and their remarkable aircraft became legends of the sport. One such pioneer was Jimmy Doolittle, a celebrated airman known for his fearless spirit. In 1925, he made history by winning the Schneider Trophy race in a Curtiss R3C biplane, reaching speeds of over 245 miles per hour. This victory not only showcased Doolittle’s exceptional piloting skills but also marked a significant milestone in American aviation, as it demonstrated the nation’s prowess in high-speed flight on the international stage.

Smithsonian – Curtiss R3C-2 Racer

Another iconic figure of early air racing was Roscoe Turner, whose flamboyant persona and pet lion “Gilmore” captured the public’s imagination. Turner was a dominant force in the 1930s air racing scene, winning the Thompson Trophy three times. His aircraft, the Wedell-Williams Model 44, was a sleek, highly modified racer that pushed the boundaries of design and performance. Turner’s victories symbolized the spirit of innovation that characterized the Golden Age of Aviation.

Roscoe Turner, and pet lion “Gilmore”

The departure of the national championship air races from Cleveland was a result of a complex interplay of factors. Firstly, the tragic crash at the 1949 Cleveland Air Races. Bill Odom crashed his P-51 WW II fighter plane into a house in Berea during the Thompson Trophy Race, killing himself and a mother and child inside. Afterwards, Berea and other cities near Cleveland Airport passed laws barring races from being held in their airspace.

Bill Odom – Modified P-51 WW II fighter plane

This catastrophic event cast a dark shadow over the event’s safety record and led to heightened concerns. Simultaneously, the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 demanded a significant redirection of resources and attention towards the war effort, making it challenging to sustain the air races. These combined factors ultimately led to the decision to stop the event, marking the end of an era for Cleveland’s aviation enthusiasts. In fact, the event as a whole went on hiatus after the crash before being revived in Reno, Nevada in 1964.





Join me on this final journey as I attend the Reno Air Races for the last time! From the roar of engines to the breathtaking aerobatics, I will try to capture every thrilling moment. Don’t miss out on this epic aviation adventure – stay tuned for daily updates and immerse yourself in the world of high-speed excitement!

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One Comment

  1. Philip Sanfilippo

    Looks great, Bill!

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