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Chocks away!

One of the craziest, loudest, most adrenalin-charged race events in the planet is held every year in Reno, in the United States, in the middle of September.

Cars? Nope. Horses? Nope. What you get are hundreds of aircraft, ranging from pre-WW2 biplanes through to modern jets, but for me, the absolute stars of the show are the souped-up Second World War fighters, especially my favourite, the mighty P-51 Mustang. These planes are now owned by mega-rich race enthusiasts who fly around a great circuit in the sky. Well, about 50 feet above terra firma, actually.

I once watched Samizdata television favourite Jeremy Clarkson present an entertaining show about the Reno Air Race, and have wanted to trek up to Lake Tahoe and enjoy the sights of this air race ever since. Well, this year, yours truly and his fair girlfriend will be there. I can hardly wait.

And if anyone reading this is going to be in the vicinity of Reno between September 16 and 19, and would like to meet up, please let me know via the e-mail address in the sidebar.

15 comments to Chocks away!

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    No, a Hawker Sea Fury FB Mk II running a properly tuned Bristol Centaurus 18.


  • Dale Amon

    You’re correct about the Sea Fury being one of the top contenders. But they do not use the sleeve valve engines because they are too rare, parts are scarce, expertise is scarcer…

    Also note that calling these planes ‘P-51’, ‘Corsair’ or ‘Sea Fury’ is only partly true. They are more like stock cars in the ‘supermodified class’. They are true monster planes.

  • Walter Wallis

    Did it [Reno] for almost 20 years. Well worth it for anyone mobile enough to walk around a bit.
    I was always fond of the P-51 since one shot at me.
    Still waiting for a postwar design unlimited to make it. Bless those WWII engineers.

  • Bill Dooley

    I’ve lived in Reno for a number of years, and attended the air races a couple of years ago. The actual races aren’t much for the spectator (they zip by so fast), but seeing the planes on the ground is wonderful. The WWII vintage aircraft, lovingly maintained … stunning. You can actually enter the cockpit of a bomber. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to think what it would have been like, back then.

  • zmollusc

    Were they designed in accordance with the lovely lovely results-delivering free market or the nasty nasty useless feeble performing government control?

  • snide

    They were designed by private companies and sold by them to governments. duh.

  • Bill Dooely

    By the way, Reno sits at the eastern feet of the Sierra Nevada. Lake Tahoe is west and quite a bit up. The air races are north and a little down. A little bit southeast is Virginia City, where the Silver Kings of San Francisco made their fortunes. The hotel where Mark Twain stayed, in Gold Hill, still stands.

    If you want to see the genuine American Wild West, it’s right here.

  • Bill Dooley

    Oh, how wonderful. I misspelled my own name for all the world to see.

    More beer, that’s the ticket.

  • Ron

    I wonder whether the Spitfire would have the potential to better the P51 Mustang if it wasn’t so scarce.

    For example, the Mk24 was capable of 450 mph at 19,000 ft., 5 mins to 20,000 ft in full military armed specification. Later (renamed) variants were capable of 494mph.

    Compare this to the Mustang, stated as having a military specification performance of 437 mph and climbing speed of 1640ft/min. The quote on this page is that “The Mustang won’t do what a Spitfire does, but it does it over Berlin”.

    Would a Spitfire “do it” over Reno if someone spent the money?

  • zmollusc

    Rest assured, USA national defence contracting is one of the best examples of a truly free market in the world

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    Dale, this is the one I saw in 71 or 72, flown by FLt O. Haydon-Baillie, when it ran a Centaurus.


  • Dale Amon

    But you’ll note they changed it to a P&W when it became a racer:

    – Rebuilt as modified racer.
    — Fitted with P&W R-4360 powerplant.
    — Composite rebuild from VX715 & WJ290,
    using parts from WH589.
    — Assumed id WH589.

    The race engines tend to be really souped up and it is not unusual for the thoroughbreds to blow the engine and carry out forced landings… I don’t think anyone is racing a Centaurus in the US. In fact, I don’t think there are more than a couple (if any) using that engine in the US these days.

    I’m fairly certain some UK ones *do* still use the original engine type.

  • Dale Amon

    I of course mean Sea Fury’s… there may be a Shackleton in the US (I know there is one in South Africa) and I believe it uses 4 Centaurus engines although I am not *absolutely* certain of it.

  • J.M. Heinrichs

    Er, yes I understood the need for suitable renovations for air racing, but I was placing more emphasis on the palne earlier history: a Centaurus sounds rather better than a Pratt.
    Are you thinking of the HP Halifax as the Shackleton runs four Griffon engines with triple blade contra-props.


  • Johnathan,

    If your trip takes you through the DFW airport, set aside some time for a visit — accommodation included, along with a little gratuitous range time, if you like.

    Our home is always open to Samizdatians.