Reno Air Races 2006
by Brian Mork
Have you ever noticed that national aviation events tend to pick up names based on where
they occur? For example, the home-built Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA,
www.eaa.org) fly-in, conducted annually in August in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is colloquially
known as “Oshkosh.” The Reno Air Racing Association (RARA, www.airrace.org) air races,
held annually in September at the Reno-Stead Airport in Nevada, are known simply as “Reno.”
I had a chance to attend the 2006
races, held September 11-15, and
took the opportunity to learn a bit
about the teams, see what opportunities there are for people, take a lot of
photos, and see what hardware and
software they’re using to push forward
this “World’s Fastest Motor Sport.”
Previously, I reported on the 2004
and 2005 DARPA Autonomous
Vehicle competitions and 2005 X-Prize win for the Space Ship One
team. These were cutting edge efforts,
pushing new technology to the limit.
Although the team that took first place
in the Reno Sport Class develops
aircraft at the same Mojave Spaceport
as the Scaled Composites Space Ship
One team, the character and purpose
of Reno is different.
Reno is not a free-for-all run toward
the future, with new technology oozing
out of every mechanical seam. It’s an
honorable and traditional discipline
pursued by those with the money and
dedication to win with margins of
victory hovering at a few percent, any
78 February 2007
tiny errors leading to magnificent loss.
Individual teams are always looking for new ways to improve, and
adopting data collection and analysis
techniques is one of many methods
helping them squeeze the last mph
out of their aircraft and pilot techniques. What is this environment, and
who are these people? What kind of
technology do they use? In what areas
could I contribute? These questions
form the scope of this article. Please
be sure to also read the many photo
captions — much of the spirit of Reno
comes out through the photographs.
There are six broad classes of competition, based on the type of airplane.
• The traditional fast movers are the
Unlimited Class. Until recently, any
propeller driven airplane could participate. This class is populated with propeller driven World War II type planes
with stock or modified engines, wings,
etc. Some modern lower-power, low-weight designs are starting to threaten
the speed zone previously owned by
the best WW-II speedsters. In
response, the RARA committee added
an additional minimum weight restriction to keep the character of the race.
Past wins have been above 450 mph,
and are pushing against 500 mph as
improvements are made each year.
• The Jet Class exhibits the fastest raw
speed, but doesn’t have the same
audience thrill of deep throated aspirated engines as they zoom by a couple hundred feet in the air. All aircraft
in this class are L- 39 Albatross jets.
• The Sport Class was started in 1998 to
include any number of the faster home-built type aircraft. As optimization set in,
the class has become dominated by
Glassair and Lancair fiberglass airframes.
• Formula One pilots fly aircraft built
to strict technical specifications.
Speeds of nearly 250 mph are