The Reno National Championship Air Race, held for the past 54 years at Stead Air Field just north of Reno, Nev., is the main event for aviation enthusiasts and air race fans alike.
Each year, a fleet of vintage aircraft -- including many Navy planes from the last 70 years -- descend upon the Nevada desert for a five day celebration of flying and aeronautics.
The event boasts many activities: flight demonstrations from military and civilian aircraft, static displays of aircraft from every era, performances both in the air and on the ground and a slew of exhibitors and vendors.
Many pilots like to show off their aircraft at the races and answer questions from the attendees. One such pilot was Tom Vaughn, a retired former commander of the "Royal Maces" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27. Hewas there to show off his 1940's vintage US Navy SNJ-4 Advanced Fighter Trainer and to fly in the T-6 Texan race, but he also had an amazing story to tell.
Vaughn said he originally bought the plane because he liked the paint job, sporting Pensacola Navy colors.
But the purchase turned out to be far more meaningful for Vaughn, when a year later he got copies of the plane's original logbooks.
He searched through them to see who had last flown the plane for the Navy, and discovered that it was his father, Kenneth Vaughn. He had sat in the cockpit on June 11, 1946, 67 years before he son would unknowingly buy it for himself. To add to the coincidences, it turned out that a cousin of his father's also flew the same plane, this time as an aviator during Vietnam.
Vaughn said he treasures the plane, to say the least, as a crucial piece of Vaughn family history.
Then there are the races, which draw more than 150,000 spectators each year. These races are the last of their kind, as the Reno circuit is the only remaining closed pylon air race course in the entire world.
Each year, the races are broken up into six categories: Formula One, Sport Biplane, T-6 Texan, Sport Plane, Jet Plane and the Unlimited. All of the planes race low to the ground, between 50 and 250 feet from the earth. This gives the audience a great view as they roar by at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour.
Each class promises its own thrills, but the main event is the Unlimited Gold Race, held on Sunday afternoon on the last day of festivities. Many of the races stick to a three mile course, but the Unlimited class stretches to nine, with planes flying eight laps before completion.
Many guests called this year's premiere race a "Shootout at the OK Corral" between two fan-favorite planes: "Voodoo" and "Strega," the two fastest P-51 D Mustangs in the world.
The P-51 Mustang “Strega,” owned by Bill Destefani from Bakersfield, was flown by a relatively new race pilot, Jay Consalvi, with some prior racing experience.
The contender, also a P-51 Mustang, is called "Voodoo." Owned by Bob Button, this plane was flown by seven-time Gold Unlimited winning pilot Steven Hinton.
For those involved, the race is all about bragging rights. In the aviation community, pilots and spectators were talking about this match up for the last six months. Voodoo won the race with Hinton at the controls in 2016. But Strega had claimed victory a year before, with former U.S. Navy pilot and astronaut Robert Gibson in the cockpit.
To add to the drama, three weeks before the race, Voodoo set a new world speed record for piston-powered airplanes.
Both planes are veterans of the racing circuit by now. Voodoo has been racing for 23 years now, while Strega has been in the game even longer.
While both Mustangs began life as World War II planes, they've since undergone some modifications. The owners have reconfigured them into full blown air racers, capable of speeds unheard of in the 1940s. Both sport Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 liquid cooled engines.
In the end, Strega clinched the win by mere mili-seconds, moving at speeds of 480 miles per hour.
Both planes passed each other multiple times during the race. But in the last lap, they were forced to maneuver around a slower-moving entry in the race. Voodoo went wide around, while Strega pulled up and over. This allowed the pilot to dive down and slip into first place in the closing seconds.
It was a startling finish to a thrilling race, just one of the many highlights at this year's Reno Air Races.