9:46 PM, Sep. 13, 2011
Six jets scheduled to be racing in the 2011 National Championship Air Races won’t be flying because of safety concerns, and the military F-22 Raptor fighter — earlier billed as one of the stars of the show — also won’t be roaring over Stead this week.
The Air Force in May grounded its F-22 Raptors, the world’s most sophisticated stealth fighter planes, because of problems with its oxygen system. The flight ban hasn’t been lifted. Instead, the Air Races will feature a demonstration of the Navy’s F-18 Super Hornet, a carrier-based fighter.
On Tuesday, Air Race officials grounded six of the 21 jets scheduled to race. The decision was made after consultations with officials of the Federal Aviation Administration. Phil Fogg Sr., a pilot, said safety concerns grounded the five Czech-made L-29 and one L-39 jet.
The concerns surrounded engine modifications to make the aircraft go faster. The jets race at speeds of up to 500 mph and are sometimes screaming by at just 50 feet off the ground.
“It came down to safety, the safety of the spectators and the safety of the pilots,” Fogg said. “It wasn’t an easy decision for anyone, but we had to err on the side of safety.”
The scratched planes include Viper, No. 77, piloted by Curt Brown, the winner of the 2010 jet class that reached 515 mph. Some pilots, including Heather Pepper, the pilot of Raju Grace, will race in substitute planes that haven’t had the engine modifications of the six grounded jets.
The six aircraft are expected to be back in 2012 after the safety concerns are addressed, race officials said in a news release.
“Safety is our foremost priority here at the National Championship Air Races,” Mike Houghton, president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association, said in a statement. “The Reno Air Racing Association along with Racing Jets, Inc. always work with the FAA to create the safest environment possible for our pilots, volunteers and fans.”
The racing jets are former military aircraft that can be modified to include different engines that conform to race and FAA rules. During a practice event this summer, a modified jet encountered problems, which led to a review by the FAA, officials said.
This week’s 48th Annual National Championship Air Races and Air Show in Reno is billed as the premier air racing event in the world. The races, today through Sunday at Reno Stead Airport, feature the Air Force Thunderbirds and other aviation shows and displays.
Viper, No. 77; Suka, No. 10; Pip Squeak, No. 2; Screaming Eagle, No. 32; Blue Tones, No. 79; and Raju Grace, No. 21.
Heather Penney will pilot Raju II, No. 21; John Kokshoorn will be flying jet No. 32; and Mike Mangold will pilot No. 32. Curt Brown, Joe Gano and Cliff Magee won’t be competing in the jet class.
If you go
» Online/prepurchase general admission ticket prices are $12-17 juniors ages 8-16; $10-24 adults older than 16; $5-25 seniors and military. Online/prepurchase reserved ticket prices are $11-$40 daily. (Prices are higher on Saturday-Sunday.)
» Tickets purchased at the gate during the races will be priced $2 higher.
» Children 7 years old or younger receive free general admission when accompanied by an adult.
» Shuttles are available from the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa, the Eldorado Hotel Casino, Harrah’s Reno, John Ascuaga’s Nugget, the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino, the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino and the Sands Regency Casino & Hotel.
» Shuttle prices are $11 one way, $19 round trip, $51 for a weekend pass (Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday) and $68 for a season pass (Thursday-Sunday).
www.airrace.org or 775-972-6663