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Reno Air Races/RARA, Ice Cream, and Fellowship
November 2015 - Which is the best air show to attend after AirVenture is certainly a point of some debate. The Reno Air Races are a huge draw for many and certainly a worthy contender for that title. Reno 2015 was a stellar year to be a spectator and, with the warbird action being center stage, an amazing thing to see.
The biggest news was the certainty that Rare Bear was healthy again. Rare Bear, the modified Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, was finally feeling the effects of a motivated and financed team effort. Beautifully campaigned by energy provider Rod Lewis, the splendid finish and presentation of the aircraft was a sight to behold. The sound of Rare Bear, an aircraft like no other, cannot be duplicated by digital recordings. It simply must be heard.
As the current world air speed record holder, Rare Bear was looking to win for the first time in years. Arrayed against it was the younger, faster Steve Hinton in a modified P-51D airframe known as VooDoo and in the “older, just as fast” category was an astronaut, shuttle pilot, and ambassador to aviation named Hoot Gibson. Hoot, perhaps one of the nicest people ever created, was a picture of aplomb throughout race week and always willing to greet supporters and friends with a smile.
The jet pits were a hive of activity too — a superbly finished array of L-39 racers seemed to be the preferred choice of pilots, and certainly a sharper-looking tandem jet is hard to find. An Iskra TS-11 and a de Havilland Vampire filled out the field and also had fairly competitive lap times. However, the L-39 has been the historical favorite mount and seemed a shoo-in for the win.
T-6 stock racing is the last warbird arena of the Reno weekend, and was historically the most exacting for close racing. These days there is quite a difference between “stock” T-6 airframes, and the guys that are on top certainly have perfectly honed their aircraft to the nth degree.
All week the EAA tent was open and provided a place for conversation and camaraderie. The races and air show acts are on a tremendous stage for the spectator, as the visibility of the whole course is possible from the flightline. Sitting in the front row, under a tent, and waiting for the daily ice cream delivery certainly was the highlight of the day. The racing and air show acts were superb, and it was a safe year, with everyone running hard and coming home without serious damage.
Oshkosh and Reno both are bellwethers it seems for the health of our vintage aviation pursuits. While the number of unlimited racers is down, the quality of warbirds over at the Heritage Trophy paddock was high, and that certainly is good. While the amount of aircraft is small in comparison with Oshkosh, there are some amazing “west coast” warbirds that aren’t seen that far east. All in all a great weekend, and one that in my mind is a must do!