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T-6 Gold Start passing the finish pylon at the 2014 Reno Air Races

Air racing is a type of motorsport that involves airplanes or other types of aircraft that compete over a fixed course, with the winner either returning the shortest time, the one to complete it with the most points, or to come closest to a previously estimated time.


The first 'heavier-than-air' air race was held on 23 May 1909 - the Prix de Lagatinerie, at the Port-Aviation airport south of Paris, France. Four pilots entered the race, two started, but nobody completed the full race distance; though this was not unexpected, as the rules specified that whoever travelled furthest would be the winner if no-one completed the race. Léon Delagrange, who covered slightly more than half of the ten 1.2-kilometre (0.75 mi; 0.65 nmi) laps was declared the winner.[1]

Some other minor events were held before the Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la Champagne in 22–29 August 1909 at Reims, France. This was the first major international flying event, drawing the most important aircraft makers and pilots of the era, as well as celebrities and royalty. The premier event — the first Gordon Bennett Trophy competition — was won by Glenn Curtiss, who beat second-place finisher Louis Blériot by five seconds. Curtiss was named 'Champion Air Racer of the World'.

Louis Paulhan in a Farman III at the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet at Dominguez Field

The first air race in the United States was the 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet at Dominguez Field, just south of Los Angeles, from 10 to 20 January 1910. The event was organised by pilots A. Roy Knabenshue and Charles Willard, who raised funding from railroad magnate Henry Huntington, and the Los Angeles Merchants and Manufacturers Association. William Randolph Hearst carried coverage of the event in his Los Angeles Examiner, and hired a hot air balloon with a promotional parse touting his newspaper. The event attracted 43 entrants, of which 16 appeared. It was there that aviation pioneer and military pilot Jimmy Doolittle, then thirteen, saw his first airplane.[2]

In the years before the First World War, popular interest in aviation led to a large number of air races in Europe; including the 1911 Circuit of Europe race, the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Air Race, and the Aerial Derby.

In 1913, the first Schneider Trophy seaplane race was held. When the competition was resumed after the war, it was significant in advancing aeroplane design, particularly in the fields of aerodynamics and engine design, and would show its results in the best fighters of World War II.

On 19 October 1919, the Army Transcontinental Air Race began along a 2,700 mi (2,346 nmi; 4,345 km) route from Long Island, New York to San Francisco, California, and back, which would see widespread carnage; including seven fatalities (two en route to the race). Of the 48 aircraft that started, 33 would complete the double crossing of the continent.[3]

Jimmy Doolittle on his Curtiss R3C-2 Racer, the plane in which he won the 1925 Schneider Trophy Race

In 1921, the United States instituted the National Air Meets, which became the National Air Races in 1924. In 1929, the Women's Air Derby, nicknamed the 'Powder Puff Derby', became a part of the National Air Races circuit. The National Air Races lasted until 1949. The Cleveland Air Races was another important event. In 1947, an All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race, also dubbed the Powder Puff Derby was established, running until 1977.

In 1934, the MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia took place, with the winning de Havilland Comet flown by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black.

Start formation Sport Class 2014 Reno Air Races

In 1964, Bill Stead, a Nevada rancher, pilot, and unlimited hydroplane racing champion, organised the first Reno Air Races at a small dirt strip called the Sky Ranch, located between Sparks, Nevada, and Pyramid Lake. The National Championship Air Races were soon moved to the Reno Stead Airport, and have been held there every September since 1966. The five-day event attracts around 200,000 people, and includes racing around courses marked out by pylons for six classes of aircraft: Unlimited, Formula One, Sport Biplane, AT-6, Sport, and Jet. It also features civil airshow acts, military flight demonstrations, and a large static aircraft display. Other promoters have run pylon racing events across the US and Canada, including races in Las Vegas, NV in 1965, Lancaster, CA in 1965 and 1966, Mojave, California in 1970-71, and 1973–79; at Cape May, NJ in 1971, San Diego, CA in 1971, Miami, FL in 1973 and 1979, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1984; Hamilton Field, California, in 1988; at Dallas, TX in 1990, in Denver, CO in 1990 and 1992, in Kansas City in 1993, in Phoenix, Arizona in 1994 and 1995; and in Tunica, Mississippi in 2005. Numerous other venues across the United States, Canada, and Mexico have also hosted events featuring the smaller Formula One and Biplane classes.

In 1970, American Formula One racing was exported to Europe (Great Britain, and then to France), where almost as many races have been held as in the U.S.A. Also in 1970, the California 1000 Air Race started at the Mojave Airport with a 66 lap unlimited air race that featured a Douglas DC-7, with one aircraft completing the circuit.[4][5]

Air racing in England: the Red Bull Air Race heat held at Kemble airfield, Gloucestershire. The aircraft fly singly, and have to pass between pairs of pylons.

In 2003, Red Bull created a series called the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, in which competitors flew individually between pairs of pylons, while performing prescribed manoeuvres. Usually held over water near large cities, the sport has attracted large crowds and renewed media interest in air racing. The inaugural season had stops in Austria and Hungary.[6] In 2019, Red Bull decided not to continue the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.[7]

Aero GP has multiple aircraft racing together pik around pylons, and is based in Europe where it has held an air race each year since 2005.

In June of 2005 against all odds and extreme pressure from the Reno Air Race Association not to start another race, entrepreneur Jeff Landers, a Memphis native, organized the Tunica Air Races in Tunica, Mississippi with Unlimited, T-6, and Sport classes represented. After the successful and safe race in 2005 RARA fought any and all efforts for the growth of this motorsport and any effort for a 2006 race there and one in Tucson Arizona.[8]

Powered paragliding or paramotor races have been organised by the Parabatix Sky Racers made up of the world's top paramotor pilots. The first occurring on 4 September 2010 in an airfield in Montauban, Southern France. These are foot-launched ram-air wings powered by small two-stroke engines, and allow for much smaller race venues such as city parks or beaches, where the audience can see the pilots up close as they carry out spectacular manoeuvres swooping close to the ground-pylons during the race.[9]

In November 2021, the first remotely-piloted eVTOL drag race between two Airspeeder craft took place. In 2022, The remotely-piloted racing series (Airspeeder EXA Series) began in 2022 with Zephatali Walsh named as the inaugural season champion.[10] The aircraft, built by Alauda Aeronautics, use electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) technology and are designed to be crewed by human pilots.[11]

Historical championships

competition 1st
primary description course field sanctioning body
Gordon Bennett Trophy 1909 time trials Pilon, rally (1920) open
Daily Mail aviation prizes 1910 various events to encourage aviation point to point & circuit open Daily Mail
Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe 1912 encourage aviation cross-country circuit open Aéro-Club de France
Schneider Trophy 1913 encourage seaplane development triangle seaplanes Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)
Pulitzer & National Air Races 1920 unlimited pylon open
King's Cup air race 1922 handicapped race for light aircraft cross-country (UK) British pilots King George V
Dole Derby 1927 California to Hawaii point to point open National Aeronautic Association (NAA)
Challenge International de Tourisme 1929 encourage light aircraft development technical trials & rally light aircraft Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)
Thompson Trophy 1929 unlimited pylon open National Aeronautics Association (NAA)
Women's Air Derby 1929 unlimited transcontinental (US) female pilots
Bendix Trophy 1931 unlimited transcontinental (US) open
MacRobertson Air Race 1934 commemorate 1934 Melbourne Centennial intercontinental (UK to Australia) open Royal Aero Club (RAC)
Formula V Air Racing 1977 provide affordable racing circuit formula aircraft Formula V Air Racing Association

Active air races

race 1st
description sanctioning body
Aero GP 2005 pylon races plus additional disciplines
Air Race Classic[12] 1977 All women's cross country race, with handicapped speed planes; courses change every year with at min. 2100 NM routes, completed within 4 days; previously known as the All Women's Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) which in turn was popularly known as the Powder Puff Derby - founded after the first Women's Air Derby of 1929
Air Race 1 World Cup 2014 pylon races, 8 aircraft together, first one across the line wins
Air Race E 2020 Airbus-sponsored, similar to the Air Race 1 with experimental electric aircraft
Airspeeder 2022 eVTOL races with experimental electric aircraft, digital circuit tracks with one & two aircraft at a time.
British Air Racing Championship 1952 handicapped air races Royal Aero Club Records Racing and Rally Association
European Air Racing Championship 2000 handicapped air races Royal Aero Club Records Racing and Rally Association
Hayward Air Rally 1965 Proficiency navigation and fuel planning competition, starting in Hayward, CA (KHWD), courses vary every year.[13]
Parabatix Sky Racers 2010 Paramotor precision air races, pylon racing, interactive ground obstacles, one & two aircraft at a time[14]
National Championship Air Races/Reno Air Races 1964 unlimited class pylon race, also includes Formula One class Reno Air Racing Association
Schneider Trophy 1981 landplanes, revived commemoration of original races Royal Aero Club Records Racing and Rally Association


Restricting aircraft to a specific type or design creates a competition that focuses on pilot skill. Air racing events such as the Reno air races, incorporate multiple classes or aircraft. These may be defined by the race organiser, or by a sanctioned group. Some air races are limited to a single class.[15] Classes used at the Reno races are as follows:

class first
primary description course sanctioning body
T-6 Air Racing 1946 T-6/Harvard/SNJ with a P&W R-1340-AN-1 engine pylon
Biplane Air Racing 1964 360 cubic inches (5,899 cubic centimetres) engines, mostly Pitts Specials pylon Professional Race Pilots Association
biplane division
Formula One Air Racing 1970 200 cubic inches (3,277 cubic centimetres) engines pylon Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI)
Formula V Air Racing 1972 98 cubic inches (1,606 cubic centimetres) Volkswagen engines pylon (defunct)
Sport Class Racing 1998 experimental piston powered aircraft with engines up to 1,000 Cubic Inches and capable of a 200 MPH minimum qualification lap speed. pylon Sport Class
Unlimited Air Racing 1964 Generally standard or modified WWII fighters, i.e., P-51 Mustang, F8F Bearcat, Hawker Sea Furys pylon National Air-Racing Group (NAG)
Jet Air Racing 2002 L-39, L-29 Provost, Iskra, and de Havilland Vampires pylon Racing Jets, Inc.

Notable racing pilots

Racing airplanes

P-51D Mustang Dago Red

Main article: List of racing airplanes

See also


  1. ^ The May–June 1909 'Port Aviation' meetings – the world's first air races (Archived 10 June 2021 at the Wayback Machine) by Anders Bruun, retrieved 6 June 2021.
  2. ^ Berliner, Don (January 2010). "The Big Race of 1910". Air & Space Magazine. The Smithsonian. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  3. ^ Billy Mitchell and the Great Transcontinental Air Race of 1919 Archived 27 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine by Dr. William M. Leary, Air University Review, May–June 1984
  4. ^ "Air Racing News". Sport Aviation. January 1970.
  5. ^ California 1000 Unlimited Class Air Race video
  6. ^ "Red Bull Content Pool". Red Bull Content Pool. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  7. ^ "Red Bull Air Race Not To Continue Beyond The 2019 Season". Red Bull Air Race. Archived from the original on 29 May 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  8. ^ "Tunica Mississippi Air Races 2005 Photos and News". Retrieved 10 April 2024.
  9. ^ "Parabatix - Sky Racers". Parabatix.
  10. ^ Welsh, Jonathan (12 October 2022). "'Flying Cars' Compete in Airspeeder EXA Series eVTOL Race". FLYING Magazine. Retrieved 25 July 2023.
  11. ^ "The Airspeeder Is A Real F1 'Flying Racing Car' From The Future". SlashGear. 27 June 2022. Retrieved 25 July 2023.
  12. ^ "About the ARC". Air Race Classic. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  13. ^ "Description of the Rally". Hayward Air Rally. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  14. ^ "About". Parabatix. Retrieved 13 February 2022.
  15. ^ Philip Handleman (2001). Air Racing Today: Heavy Iron at Reno. Shrewsbury (Shropshire) : Airline. ISBN 1840372494