The 51st National Championship Air Races brought a large number of warbirds to the Nevada desert. Some competed in the air, some competed on the ground, while others were just displayed to honor their military heritage.
The races have always attracted a fair amount of veteran aircraft, especially since three of today’s race classes (Jet, T-6 and Unlimited) are almost exclusively flown using retired military aircraft. Especially with the Unlimited class, airframe and powerplant modifications, plus the eye-catching color schemes may not yield faithful reproductions of past glories. However, at the plane’s core it’s still a warbird – however customized. Easily half of the warbirds at Reno this year were racers; here’s a primer of what each of these three classes attracted.
The T-6 Class has strict rules on modifying North American AT-6, SNJ, or Harvard racers. The airframes and powerplants remain strictly stock; the filling of airframe gaps and polishing is allowed but the Pratt and Whitney radial engines can’t be modified past the original manufacturer’s tolerances on components.
The Jet Class limits participation by aerodynamic design and powerplant, allowing “participation by any non-after-burning jet with less than 15° of wing sweep”. A few attempts with aerodynamic enhancements – like wingtip vortex fences – were noted this year. A sole SIAI-Marchetti S.211 joined Aero Vodochody L-29s and L-39s, and a PZL TS-11 Iskra trainer in the air. All of these are former military training aircraft.
The Unlimited Class requires a piston engine as the sole source of propulsion, but after that, pretty much anything goes. Some aircraft look very stock while others are barely recognizable from their former selves. Fighter aircraft find favor in this class as their speed and airframe strength are desired as building blocks to make the ultimate Unlimited racer. This year, multiple Sea Furies and Mustangs were joined by single examples of YAK-11, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat, and F4U Corsair fighters. Add another warbird into the mix… race starter Steve Hinton flew a T-33 while sorting out the airborne participants.
There were two other venues at the2014 Races where warbirds assembled. The Commemorative Air Force displayed a trio of flyable World War II standouts: a Zero, Hellcat, and Spitfire, plus an F8F Bearcat too. In the pits was a private Hawker Sea Fury too.
The National Aviation Heritage Invitational drew an abundance of warbirds, all in pristine condition, to the show. Aircraft with civil and military backgrounds are judged by experts and spectators alike, competing for trophies in 6 classes including Warbirds, Large Aircraft and the People’s Choice. Rick Clemens’ North American A-26C Invader won the Large Aircraft award this year, beating out a PV-2 Harpoon and C-47. Brian Reynolds’ FG-1D Corsair won the Military award, as well as the People’s Choice trophy.
There were some rare sights in the NAHI compound… a Bell AH-1G Cobra shared the ramp with an OV-10B Bronco. A pre-World War II F3F-2 replica biplane fighter wore the markings of the U.S. Marines. Trainers, and a Lockheed Orion monoplane – painted as an Army Air Corps transport, gleamed in the sun.
To be sure, the National Championship Air Races’ allure of noise and speed is a no-brainer, but as a warbird aviation show the event presents quite a showcase of former military hardware too.