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 Reno 2015 Air Races Tuesday, January 22, 2019   

Even without its still banned Fast Jets, the Warbirds of Delaware Race Team acquitted itself well at the 2015 races. Our Rookie, Jon Socolof, did a solid job keeping our stock L-29, Race 6, SLUGGO in the game.  Joe Gano was alternate pilot, and Jon very graciously offered him the Sunday Gold Race. Drawing on 7 years of racing experience, Joe was able to get SLUGGO from last to 13th out of 17 jets.

The rest of the jet class consisted primarily of the quiet, slow, stock L-39C’s. Vicky  Benzing fielded Race 139, a Garrett powered L-139, but had very disappointing results.. Against all odds, Pete Zaccagnino was able to not only get his Vampire, Race 24, to the races, but to actually finish all his races. The Vampire proved too fast for Raf Collado’s  Race 8, an L-39 piloted by Sean Cushing, and originally engineered by Dave Cannavo. Pete won with a 502.4 MPH speed, just ahead of Sean’s 501.8 MPH. That just barely qualified the 2015 Jet Class as a “500 MPH” class.

As for the race week as a whole, the Breitling aerobatic team put on as good a show as you can expect from the L-39: Very precise, but no noise and not much speed. The F-16’s out of Shaw AFB really tore up the field, but there were only two of them, and they missed a couple of shows for maintenance.

The Unlimited Class continued its decline, with only three legitimate racers: Rare Bear, Strega and Voodoo. Down from 30 aircraft five years ago, there were only a total of 12 Unlimited racers in 2015. The remaining 9 primarily stock WWII fighters conducted a very presentable parade.  The Unlimiteds’ problems appear to be insurmountable. The fans, the planes, the pilots and the technicians continue to age, while the values of the aircraft keep climbing.

The Sport Class continued to grow in participation, but fan interest was not in evidence. The  once popularT-6 class has declined in parallel with the Unlimiteds, with barely a dozen on the ramp this year.

On a positive note, the new RARA Board, led by John Agather, seems to have some good ideas for survival. First, they cut the 2015 Race operating budget by about 25% with no loss in efficiency. RARA also procured TV coverage for the event, and a one hour show will be aired on NBCSN in February.  After several years’ absence 2016 should mark the return of Reno’s most popular event, the Thunderbirds.  The leadership seems to finally have recognized that TV coverage is crucial to survival in today’s electronic world.

In 2016 there will be efforts to race drones and electric aircraft. If Reno can capitalize by being the first, electric aircraft may well prove to be the savior that Reno needs. Both drones and electric planes will attract the much younger audiences that have no emotional connection to the WWII fighters of the Unlimited Class.

Electric power has attracted the attention of the large aircraft manufacturers. They have begun to compete seriously.  This is best demonstrated by Airbus’s attempt at being the “first” to cross the English Channel with their E-fan electric plane. They used their clout to ground an attempt by Pipistrel's Alpha Electro, but were then beaten by just a few hours by a twin engined Cri-Cri. All in vain though. Turns out the Channel was crossed in 1981 by Frank McCready’s Solar Electric. So what’s next: Who’s the fastest?

Reno has the added advantage of Tesla’s presence. Tesla is building the world’s largest battery factory in Reno.  Battery technology holds the key to successful electric aviation. Tesla is becoming part of Reno, and the owner, Elon Musk likes to go fast. 

Electric races are coming and they will bring the big dollars, the major development efforts and the resulting publicity of the major air frame manufacturers.
 The big question: Will Reno be capable of putting the format together first?


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