Douglas A/B-26 Invader

Air Racing

Site Navigation
Reg'n cross ref.
S/No's & Prod'n codes
MILITARY VARIANTS - History, Data & Photos
CIVIL VARIANTS - History, Data & Photos
About the author/Contact
Info Req'd


Additional reading

The aeroplanes

Round the world, Distance and record breaking flights


To start at the begining.............

The first event in air racing history was held in 1909; the Grand Week of the Champagne at Reims, France, drawing many of the most important plane makers and pilots of the era, as well as celebrities and royalty. The premier event--the James Gordon Bennett Trophy-- was won by Glenn Curtiss, who beat the second place finisher by five seconds. Curtiss was named "Champion Air Racer of the World". This event was held yearly at different locations. In 1934, the MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia took place with the winning de Havilland Comet flown by Scott and Campbell Black.

Between 1913 and 1931 the Schneider Trophy seaplane race was run, which 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.

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 became a part of the National Air Races circuit. The National Air Races lasted until 1949. The Cleveland Air Races was another important event. That year, pilot Bill Odom suffered a crash during a race, killing himself and two other people in a nearby house. In 1947, an All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) dubbed the "Powder Puff Derby" was established, running until 1977.

In 1964, Bill Stead, a Nevada rancher, pilot, and unlimited hydroplane racing champion, organized 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 USA and Canada, including races in Mojave, California in 1978; at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1984; at Hamilton, California, in 1988; in Phoenix, Arizona in 1994 and 1995; and in Tunica, Mississippi in 2005.

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.

Red Bull has created a series called the Red Bull Air Race World Series in which competitors fly singularly through a series of gates, between which they must perform a prescribed series of aerobatics maneuvers. Usually held over water near large cities, the series has attracted large crowds and brought substantial media interest in air racing for the first time in decades.

But by far the two most prestigious air races were the Bendix and the National




The Bendix Trophy is an U.S. aeronautical racing trophy. The transcontinental, point-to-point race, sponsored by industrialist VincenT Bendix founder of Bendix Corporation, began in 1931 as part of the National Air Races. Initial prize money for the winners was $15,000. The last Bendix Trophy Race was flown in 1962.

The trophy was brought back in 1998 by AlliedSignal the then current owner of the Bendix brand name (which later merged with Honeywell) to "recognize contributions to aerospace safety by individuals or institutions through innovation in advanced safety equipment and equipment utilization."

The current awards of the Honeywell Bendix Trophy for Aviation Safety includes a scale reproduction of the original Bendix Trophy design and a citation.

The purpose was to interest engineers in building faster, more reliable, and durable aircraft. Bendix competitors flew from Burbank, California, to Cleveland, Ohio, except for two years when the contest began in New York and ended in Los Angeles.

Famous competitors for the trophy included James Harold Doolittle, who won the first race, and several women. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to enter the Bendix, taking fifth place in 1935. In 1936, Louise Thaden and her copilot Blanche Noyes won the race. Laura Ingalls finished second. In 1938, Jacqueline Cochran, arguably the greatest female aviator of all time, took home the trophy. Paul Mantz was the only pilot to ever win the Bendix three consecutive years, from 1946 through 1948.

The race was not run during World War II. Post war winners were frequently military veterans from the United States Army Air Forces: the 1956 winner, Capt. Manuel Fernandez, Jr, was the third ranking WWII USAAF Ace. By the 1960s, American interest in air racing declined; this is likely due to an increased focus on the space race during this time. Lt. Richard F. Gordon, Jr., the 1961 winner, went on to become an Astronaut with NASA.

The Bendix Trophy Race now flown in two divisions, R-division for reciprocating engines
and the J-division for the jet engines flown by the military. The R-division attracted some
22 entries, 4 N. American P-51's, 14 Lockheed P-38's, 2 Bell P-63's, Goodyear FG-1
and a Douglas A-26. Most were seasoned pilots except for 18 year old Bill Lear jr.
Veteran Bendix pilots were Paul Mantz and Jacqueline Cochran. One of the first-timers
was famous Indianapolis 500 race car driver Rex Mays.
The pre to post war Bendix Race was a major change from designer-builder- pilots
to skilled airmen able to push their already state of the art machines to new limits.
The race launch was  moved from Burbank to the Van Nuys Airport  for the  longer
runway and  additional  ramp space  for the  22  entries.  Last minute preparations
for   those  unable  to  find  hangar  space were  conducted  along  a  blast  fence.
Paul  Mantz, who flew the  pre-war  Bendix by now had a sizeable  fleet of  aircraft
including several P-51's. Mantz choose a "B" model as it was faster than the "D"
model with it's bubble canopy. Mantz consulted with his friend Lockheed Engineer
Kelly Johnson to determine how to fly the route non-stop. Johnson advised him to
"wet the wings", fill all the openings, seal the inside and fill the wings with gasoline.
With  875 gallons  of  super  cold gasoline Mantz was able to fly non-stop and win.

1946 – 2,048 miles

  1. Paul Mantz            46  NAA P-51C  NX-1202        4:42:14            435.501 mph

  2. Jackie Cochran     13  NAA P-51B  NX-28388       4:52:00 420.925

  3. Thomas Mason      60  NAA P-51C  NX-1204        5:01:06 408.220

  4. William Eddy         31  NAA P-51D  NX-66851      5:29:18             373.252

  5. James Harp           95  F-5G  NX-79123                 5:31:48            370.447

  6. Donald Husted      45 A-26C  NX-37482                5:34:06            367,889

  7. Charles Tucker     30  Bell P-63C  NX-63231         5:34:47            367.149

  8. Harvey Hughes     70 F-5G  NX-70087                  5:44:51            356.428

  9. William Bullock     50 F-5G  NX-70005                 5:45:21            355.908

10. Harold Johnson     63 F-5G  NX-21765                 5:57:57            343.380

11. John Carroll          22 F-5G  NX-33697                 6:03:47            337.880

12. H.L. Marshall        99 F-5G  NX-66108                 6:05:53            335.938

13. Rex Mays               55 F-5G  NX-57492                 6:15:17            327.526

14. William Lear Jr.    71 F-5G  NX-66613                 6:15:46            327.105

15. Thomas Call          90 FG-1D  NX-63382             6:17:29   325.612

16. W Fairbrother       58  P-38L  NX-69800              6:17:54 325.255

17. Andrew Grant       82 F-5G  NX-33698                7:49:44            261.665

--   John Schields         36 P-38L  NX-66692            finished late

--   Spiro Dilles            47 Bell P-63C  NX-67115        DNF

--   H Calloway           48 P-38L  NX-26927                DNF

--   Herman Salmon    74 F-5G  NX-56687                 DNF

--   John Yandell         11 F-5G  NX-66678                 DNF


1947 – 2,048 miles

  1. Paul Mantz           46  NAA P-51C  NX-1202       4:26:57   460.423 mph

  2. Joe DeBona          90  NAA P-51D  NX-33699     4:28:15   458.203

  3. Edmund Lunken   33  NAA P-51D  NX-61151     5:00:45   408.723

  4. Bruce Gimbel       13  NAA P-51B  NX-28388      5:04:11   404.080

  5. William Eddy        31  NAA P-51D  NX-66851     5:26:25   376.549

  6. Thomas Mason     60  NAA P-51C  NX-1204       5:26:49   376.084

  7. Frank Whitton      99 FG-1D  NX-63382              6:24:04   320.025

  8. William Lear Jr.    25 F-5G  NX-56687                6:59:57   292.680

  9. Jane  Hlavacek     63 F-5G  NX-21765                8:15:60   247.812

--   James Ruble          88  Lockheed P-38F  NX-5101N      DNF

--   Diana Cyrus          91  Douglas A-26B  NX-67807         DNF

--   Joe Kinkella          92  Bell P-63C  NX-62822                DNF





              The Reno national air races

             Classes of Competition

         The competition is in four classes:


The Unlimited Class is open to any piston-driven aircraft with an empty weight greater than 4500 pounds [the weight restriction was added in 2005]. Aside from a very few "scratch-built" aircraft, the Unlimited Class has generally been populated by stock or modified WWII fighters, the most-often-flown types including the P-51 Mustang, F-8F Bearcat, and Hawker Sea Fury. Aircraft speeds in the Unlimited Class reach 500 mph.

Formula One

Formula One aircraft are all powered by a Continental O-200 engine (the same 100 hp engine used in a Cessna 150). Weights and sizes of every major engine part must be within stock limits. The cam profile and carburetion are strictly controlled. Race aircraft must have 66 square feet of wing area, weigh at least 500 pounds empty, and have a fixed landing gear and fixed pitch propeller. The fastest Formula One aircraft reach almost 250 mph on the 3.12-mile race course at Reno. Many Formula One aircraft are built by the pilots that race them and are a relatively inexpensive way to enjoy the excitement and satisfaction of air racing.


The Biplane Class is represented by small, aerobatic aircraft like the Pitts Special, the Mong, and the Smith Miniplane, giving pilots a chance to apply their skills to racing on a 3.18-mile course at speeds exceeding 200 mph.


The T-6 Class features match racing between stock aircraft, including the original T-6 "Texan", the Canadian-built "Harvard", and the US Navy "SNJ" version aircraft.

All of the T-6 variants are powered by the Pratt & Whitney Wasp R-1340-AN-1 air-cooled radial engine, which develops about 600 horsepower, and all have essentially the same airframe.

Originally built by North American Aviation, the 15,495 aircraft that were manufactured over the life of the model served primarily as advanced trainers, helping pilots bridge between basic trainers and front-line tactical aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang.

The fastest T-6 aircraft generally post race speeds into the 220-230 mph range on the 5.06-mile course at Reno. Because the aircraft are all of the same type, the T-6 class provides some of the most exciting racing at Reno, with an emphasis on strategy and pilot skill rather than raw horsepower.

Sport class

The Sport Class highlights the new and innovative work being done in the development of high performance kit-built aircraft. Competition in the Class is fierce, with the rapid introduction of race-driven engine and airframe technology. Eligible aircraft include production model kit-built aircraft, of which 5 or more kits have been produced and delivered to customers by the manufacturer, powered by a reciprocating engine of 650 cubic inches or less. All aircraft must have a current FAA issued airworthiness certificate.

Sport Class aircraft race on a 6.37-mile course at speeds reaching nearly 350 mph.

Jet class

The Jet Class was inaugurated in 2002 as an invitation-only class, featuring match racing with Czech-built Aerovodochody L-39 "Albatros" jets, racing at speeds in the 400+ mph range. In 2004, sponsorship and interest had developed to the point where the Class was opened to participation by any qualified pilot and aircraft.


The races take place over a four-day period in September, from Thursday through Sunday, but time trials are held earlier in the week. Planes are assigned to heats based on their qualifying times and those with the eight fastest times in heat races move on to the "Gold" championship race on Sunday.

If the number of entries permits, there are two other championships in each class, the "Silver" and "Bronze" races, each with eight planes, based on their times in heats.

The closed-circuit course is a little over 9 miles long. Since speeds approach 500 miles an hour in the Unlimited class, it takes a little more than a minute for a plane to negotiate one lap, and all the action is in clear view of spectators. The Unlimited "Gold" championship race is usually flown over eight laps, the "Silver" race over eight laps, and the "Bronze" race over six laps.

About 150,000 spectators turn out over the four-day period. In addition to racing, they get to see exhibitions of aerobatics, stunt flying, and skydiving, as well as flyovers and demonstrations by military teams.

General Information - Rules

In closed-circuit air racing, the course is marked by six pylons, about 30 feet high, and placed so a pilot can see at least the next two pylons from any point along the course. There are two straightaways.

The length of the course varies with the type of plane being raced, from 2-3 miles for Formula Vee planes up to 9-10 miles for planes in the Unlimited class. In Formula One racing, the course is usually 3 miles in length and each straightaway is a mile long.

The number of planes in a race is generally limited to eight. If more than eight planes are entered, they may compete in preliminary heats, with the top finishers in each heat advancing to the finals. In some events, qualifying laps are used to determine the finalists. Each plane flies two laps and the average speed for the second lap is used for qualifying.

The Race

There are two types of starts. An air start is similar to the start of an auto race: The planes get into the air, line up in formation behind a pace plane, and follow the pace plane to the starting line. Just beyond the starting line, the pace plane pulls up and the race is on.

In a racehorse start, the planes line up in a takeoff grid on the runway. Positions in the grid are usually determined by their qualifying times. At the drop of a flag, the pilots take off and head for the course. Timing begins when the first plane crosses the start line.

A race is made up of a predetermined number of laps. In major Formula One races, there are usually eight laps, for a total of 24 miles.

A plane must pass outside the pylon when cornering. Traveling inside or over the top of a pylon is a violation that usually results in a time penalty. Altitude must range from 25 feet to 500 feet, although a pilot may fly higher for reasons of safety. During an emergency, which is signaled by a yellow flag from the officials, the lead plane must climb to at least 300 feet. The other planes must follow to the that altitude and remain there until the emergency has passed.

The aircraft have to keep a safe distance apart during the race. A pilot attempting to pass is responsible for ensuring the safety of the maneuver. However, a pilot being passed must stay on course, without attempting to impede the other plane.

The plane that crosses the finish line first, after having completed the required number of laps, is the winner, provided no penalties were incurred during the race.



Click on the link below, to download the programme
for the 1971 California Air Races

1971 California Air Race Programme