Air racing is a motorsport that involves small aircraft
The first ever air race was held in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1908. The participants piloted the only 4 airships in the U.S. around a course located at Forest Park. 2 of the pilots went off-course due to strong winds, and the other 2 successfully completed the course, and divided the $5,000 prize.
The first event in heavier-than-air air racing history was held on May 23, 1909 – the Prix de Lagatinerie, held at the Port-Aviation airport south of Paris, France. Four pilots entered the race, two actually started and nobody completed the full race distance. Léon Delagrange, who covered more than half of the ten 1.2-kilometre laps was declared the winner.
Some other minor events were held before the August 22-29 1909 Grand Week of the Champagne at Reims, France. This was the first major international air race, drawing many of the most important plane makers and pilots of the era, as well as celebrities and royalty. The premier event — the Gordon Bennett Trophy — was won by Glenn Curtiss, who beat second place finisher Louis Blériot by five seconds. Curtiss was named “Champion Air Racer of the World”. This event was held yearly at different locations. On October 19, 1919, the Army Transcontinental Air Race began (cf. 1919 Air Service Transcontinental Recruiting Convoy.)
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 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.
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 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, CA, 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.
Red Bull has created a series called the Red Bull Air Race World Championschip in which competitors fly singularly through a series of air gates, between which they must perform a prescribed maneuvers. Usually held over water near large cities, the sport has attracted large crowds and brought substantial media interest in air racing for the first time in decades.
A recent air racing competition to enter the sport is the Aero GP, based in Europe, which has held at least one air race per year since 2005, including 2 grand prix in 2008. Aero GP air racing is based on the classic format of multiple planes racing together and against each other in a tight pylon circuit. Aero GP air races are broadcast on television in hundreds of millions of homes worldwide, establishing the events as credible fixtures in the air racing world.
A new and alternative kind of air race has been developed within a recent motorized flying discipline known as Paramotoring. Following in the footsteps of other popular air races the event is called Parabatix Sky Racers. On Saturday 4th September 2010 in an airfield in Montauban, Southern France, the sky was buzzing and spectators roaring as Parabatix organiser Pascal Campbell-Jones and his team of paramotor pilots put on an incredible aerial extravaganza. Paramotors are the motorbikes of the sky, using two-stroke engines and paraglider wings. Their pilots aren’t hidden away in cockpits, and spectators can see their every movements, from leaning into steeply banked turns, to grabbing balls or swooping across water at speed, their feet kicking spray into the air. The slower flying speeds and agility of the machines means all this can take place in a smaller area, putting the audience closer to the action.
The latest development in air racing is the Sky Challenge Air Race – officially launched at the Oshkosh air show in the United States in July 2011. The Sky Challenge Air race uses a patented virtual course to allow true head to head air races in city centres – and also puts sponsor logos into the course as interactive virtual objects. The interactive course allows millions of virtual pilots to join the action on the internet – with the top entrants racing against the actual pilots live on stage at each Sky Challenge event. The Sky Challenge Air Race is distributed to a massive global TV audience and is in talks with a number of host cities on a global basis. The Sky Challenge patent covers not just air races but all forms of sport.