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Air racing

Air racing is a sport that involves small airplanes and is practiced around the world each year. It is somewhat similar to auto racing; most pilots that practice this sport belong to a team that is sponsored by large corporations. Unlike auto racing races, however, air racing races usually draw smaller crowds. Air races are usually held at small airports. Many of the planes used also perform acrobatic stunts during the races.

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
Hungarian aerobatics pilot Peter Besenyei at speed in his Extra 300, at the air race shown above


The first event in air racing history was held in 1909; the Reims Air Race from Reims, France to England lasted a week, drawing the most important plane makers and pilots of the era, as well as many celebrities and royalty. The event was won by Glenn Curtiss, who outsped the second place finisher by five seconds. Curtiss was held as "Champion Air Racer of the World". This event was held yearly for many years.

Later on, the England to Australia air race was instituted, with commercial airlines such as Air France, Imperial Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Pan Am, Qantas and others participating. The major event was suspended during World War II and never brought back.

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 1939. The Cleveland Air Races were one of the most important events of the National Air Races and outlived the circuit by ten years, being held until 1949. That year, pilot Bill Odom suffered a fatal crash during a race, killing himself and two people in a nearby house. In 1947, an All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) dubbed the "Powder Puff Derby" was established. It ran successfully until 1977.

Some regional Air Races kept on celebrating yearly contests in the United States, but, after 1960, all air races in American soil were suspended. Three years later, Bill Stead, a former champion air pilot and cattle rancher from Nevada, decided to revive the sport in the States, and in 1964, the Reno Air Races, arguably the world's most important air racing event, were inaugurated. The race has become a yearly event. It is held at Reno Stead Airport. In 2005, an air race featuring many competitors from the Reno Air Races was held in Tunica, Mississippi to much success.

In Europe, two other important events take place: the Jersey and Guersney air rallies. The European Sport Pilot Association calls itself "the most important (air racing) association in the world".

Notable air racers