RENO, Nev. – Pilots offered praise this week for a new course designed to keep them farther away from spectators at the Reno National Championship Air Races after last year’s accident that killed 11 people.
Pilots who flew the course for the first time during a training seminar this week ahead of the Sept. 12-16 races reacted positively to it, said Reno Air Racing Association President Mike Houghton. The repositioning of several pylons moves the course about 150 feet farther away from spectators and helps to ease the gravitational pull on pilots competing in the fastest of six aircraft classes by smoothing out some turns, he said.
A modified World War II P-51 Mustang crashed in front of VIP boxes last September at the Reno National Championship Air Races, killing 11 people and injuring about 70 others.
“I don’t think it’ll have an impact on speeds. (It’ll affect) just the G-force pilots feel,” Houghton said. “Every change we’ve made has taken safety to the next level, and this is one of those steps.”
Pilot Steven Hinton, who races in the Unlimited class, praised the changes in a Facebook post Thursday.
“Had a great time at (the seminar) and the new course felt good! 89 more days till the races,” he wrote.
The competition at Reno Stead Airport is the only event of its kind in the world, with planes flying wingtip-to-wingtip around an oval pylon track, sometimes just 50 feet off the ground and at speeds of over 500 mph. This week’s seminar for the first time offered special training to provide a feel for the gravitational pull pilots will experience when racing.
The changes are in line with safety recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board after last year’s crash.
Eric Zine, of Los Angeles, who competes in the biplane class, thinks the changes will make the event safer. “Last year’s crash was a one-in-a-million thing that happened,” said Zine, a SkyWest Airlines pilot. “I think we took a safe event and made it safer.”