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Reno Air Races  
Are Nearby Housing Developments Safe? 

The Reno Air Races are one of Reno's premiere events to see and photograph.  The event takes place in mid September. It is currently held at Reno Stead Air Field 10 miles north of Reno.  It is a fun and successful event that has raised some safety concerns for nearby residents.  

The Reno Air Races are like a day at the car races with a few big differences. Car races usually feature one type of car like a Formula One. The Reno Air Races offer a variety of planes separated into classes. Each class takes turns flying. There are million dollar Mustangs from World War II. You can see rare antique planes that have been beautifully restored. The sports class consists of kit-built high performance aircraft. There are old fashion bi-planes and stunt planes too. The Thunderbird Jets were at the show the year I attended. They are the Navy's version of the Blue Angels precision flying team. The Reno Air Races has a tremendous variety of flying aircraft all in one location. 

The race track is also quite different than at car races. Most of the planes in Reno race around pylons set up in the countryside. The race course flies them along the runway where the spectators are located. Vintage planes do a low altitude fly by along the runway. Acrobatic stunt planes also perform in this area for the delight of the cheering crowds in the stands. 

 I was a first time photographer.  I had little idea of what to expect. Photographers with press credentials had special access to pylons along the race course. We took busses out to the pylons before each race. Planes racing at warp speed were turning tight corners around these pylons. I was standing directly below the planes. The noise levels from some of the vintage war planes was defining. Experienced photographers brought ear plugs. I borrowed a pair.  It was exciting to be so close to planes. They were cranking tight turns at fast speeds. Everything looked great through the view finder. The planes were maneuvering in a tight formation. I was right on top of the action. I was getting some great shots. I really didn't know if I was safe being next to planes as they jockeyed for position. Some of the planes in the unlimited class run close to 500 miles per hour. I also wondered how safe the people were in the new housing developments bordering the air field. I had seen dramatic news footage of planes crashing into crowds of spectators as they ran from clouds of fire. You just never think it is going to happen to you. 

Reno has experienced explosive growth. Reno's Stead Air Field used to be surrounded by open spaces. Housing developments are now bordering the air strip. Some people consider this to be the old chicken and the egg story. What came first? The Reno Air Races or the houses. The debate continues. How safe are the Air Races? I was personally taking pictures at a pylon in 1999. I saw a stressed out wing blew off a plane. It was banking into a tight turn when it happened. In that split second I couldn't even take a picture as I watched in disbelief. The plane tumbled towards the houses bordering the race course.  I saw a large fireball light up the sky as the fuel exploded upon impact. A mushroom cloud  of smoke was all that remained. It looked like the pictures I have seen when bombs explode. The pilot Gary Levitz was flying his custom built P-51 racer. A number of houses and a travel trailer were struck by wreckage in nearby Lemmon Valley. The furniture executive Gary Levitz was gone. Fortunately no one in the housing development was killed as debris scattered across the countryside.  

The photographers could have been at ground zero if the plane lost the wing on the left side of the plane. The plane could have been hurled towards the photographers instead of away from us. I solemnly returned to the landing strip. I never to went to the pylons again. The Thunderbirds chose not to fly that day in honor of the pilot who was lost. I didn't know what to think as I watched the video footage replay on my friends camera. On September 17, 1998 a 63 year old pilot named Dick Roberts was killed flying a formula one class of airplane. Another pilot was dead and the list continues to grow. A pilot named Tommy "Ramblin" Rose was in the 15th fatal crash at the Reno Air Races in 2002. He crashed directly in front of the main grandstands.

911 has taught us that planes can be flying bombs. The fuel can explode on impact. Some people feel the right-of-way should go to the Reno Stead Air Field because it was built before the new houses. The question remains. Are people safe in the housing developments surrounding the Reno Air Races? Building the houses was approved by the city. Children are now living in these homes. We all deserve to be safe in our homes. I consider my home to be my sanctuary. I would never buy a home next to an airport. I don't like the noise. I also wouldn't like old planes racing near my house and family. The discussion goes on. There is an old saying. If you want to be safe don't leave the house. Maybe in this case we should make an exception. 

The Reno Air Races are a fun spectator sport but at what cost? One lost life is too many when it comes to entertainment. I will never photograph this event from the pylons again. Some jobs provide hazardous pay. I photographed the Reno Air Races for free. I thought the pictures would be desirable for editorial purposes. No magazine or newspaper ever bought a single picture. I shoot slide film. Slides are already old news by the time they are processed and scanned. News means now and it has all gone digital. Now I photograph the Reno Balloon Races and vintage cars at Hot August Nights. They are safe, quiet and colorful events. 

For more information you can contact National Championship Air Races and Air Show at http://airrace.org

 
Pictures: Thunderbird Jets at the Reno Air Races
Picture are NOT FOR SALE - Editorial Use Only
Thunderbird Jets in Formation
Thunderbird Jets in Formation at Reno Air Races
Picture # RA1991
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Thunderbird Jets at the Reno Air Races
Thunderbird Jets at Reno Air Races
Picture # RA1992
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Thunderbird Jets Perform at the Reno Air Races
Thunderbird Jets at Reno Air Races
Picture # RA1993
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Thunderbird Jets Perform in Reno
Thunderbird Jets at Reno Air Races
Picture # RA1994
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Thunderbird Jets in the Clouds
Thunderbird Jets in the Clouds at Reno Air Races
Picture # RA1995
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Thunderbird Jet in Clouds
Thunderbird Jet in Clouds at Reno Air Races
Picture # RA1996
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BRAD  PERKS PC Image Network
Lightscapes Photo Gallery 
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Perks@PcImageNetwork.com
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See additional images of the Airplanes at:
Reno Air Races 2
Reno Air Races 3
Hayward Air Show
 
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