Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Day-and-Half at the Air Races

In which we get our speed on

Last weekend was all about the Reno Air Races with Pops. Took the train -- which by the way, is excellent -- up to Davis on Friday, where I met Pops. Next morning we were up and at 'em early for the quick sprint over the High Sierra and down into Reno, arriving at the Air Races just as the sun was beginning its sizzling ascent into the unbearable. The shot above shows the unlimited jet races, in which the planes zip around a "track" -- outlined by pylons -- some two score miles long. The sound is awesome.

We took a break and went into the pits, where the crew teams take care of their planes, making them ready for the next race.

Vintage cars were on display as well as planes. Here, a boat-tailed, 1930s-era Rolls Royce Silver Cloud has been covered in copper and brass and installed with mahogany accents.

P-51 Mustang! Cadillac of the Sky! This lovingly restored P-51 -- probably the best performing prop-engine fighter of the Second World War -- sports gorgeous nose art as well seven Nazi, indicated the original pilots kills during the war. Take that, you Nazi bastards. Oh, the plane's name is "Reluctant Virgin."

A U.S. Air Force C-17 "Shark." A cargo aircraft, beautiful and graceful for its size, soars low over the grandstands. When I was skydiving we used to call these planes "sharks" because of the way they looked from above. C-17s would fly out of Travis Air Force Base and pass beneath our jump plane, hence the instructors would warn, "Look out for sharks!"
Before the U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds show, skydivers unveiled the colors to the sounds of the Star Spangled Banner.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Not as good as the U.S. Navy Blue Angles, but pretty darn good. One of the things I did not like about their show was that it was accompanied by a heavy metal and rap soundtrack, along with a recruitment voice-over that hit every nationalistic cliche in the book. Listen, guys, I know this is a recruitment excersize after all, but there's just no need to lay it on that thick. It's insulting. Besides, the 'Birds make a music all their own that is ten times more moving and powerful than any corn-ball soundtrack.

The T-Birds move fast. Not easy to photograph, yo?

The highlight of the show. Above, the F-22 Raptor shows off its bombay doors with a low pass over the crowd. This aircraft moves like magic. It doesn't so much as turn as it simply changes direction. We kept hearing people in the crowd exclaiming, "But that's just impossible." Well, not anymore. The thing can, literally, start and stop on a dime and, using vectored thrust, shift direction, going from straight up to straight down in a split second. It can even fly backwards at 100 miles per hour.
I pity any airmen in a rival airforce who finds himself pitted against the F-22, because he simply does not stand a prayer in hell.
I have to say, the races themselves were not all that. Some, like the jet races and the stunt biplane races, were fun. But in general, they were a bit too much like NASCAR, and it was clear that whoever took the early lead was going to be the winner. Not much "jockeying" for position. It was the demostration flights that made the Reno Air Races worthwhile.

This pic says it all. In the foreground sits the mighty F-22. Flying behind is a standard Cessna, flown by an expert stunt pilot who flew it like it was a high-performance formula one aircraft, doing outside loops, barrel roles and other complex maneuvers.


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