50 Years of Air Racing
Over half a century, a devoted few created the unique culture of Reno.
- By Linda Shiner and Caroline Sheen
- Air & Space magazine, August 2013
Say that single name at Reno, and everybody knows who you mean. In the early days, Lockheed test pilot Darryl Greenamyer owned the Unlimited class, winning six of seven races held between 1965 and 1971 in his Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, Conquest 1. The airplane is now on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. In 1977, Greenamyer returned to take the Gold again in the RB-51 Mustang Red Baron.
Greenamyer’s champion Bearcat is famous not only for spanking Mustangs at the air races, but also for evening a score with a contemporary fighter, the German Me 209, which in 1939 set a world speed record: 469 mph. That milestone stood for 30 years—until 1969, when Greenamyer flew Conquest 1 to 482 mph.
After grabbing the piston-engine speed record back from the Germans, Greenamyer set out to win the jet altitude record back from the Soviets. In 1977, Alexander V. Fedotov flew to 123,520 feet in a MiG-25 Foxbat. To beat Fedotov, Greenamyer built an F-104 Starfighter from pieces from what he estimates were a dozen scrapped -104s. Who would even do that? Only Darryl Greenamyer. It took him 13 years.
He first set a low-altitude speed record of 988 mph (this, at an altitude of 100 feet; again, who…?). The record still stands. Four months later, on a test flight before his altitude attempt, a gear problem forced Greenamyer to eject before his F-104 homebuilt crashed.
In 2002, Greenamyer came back to Reno—in a kit-built Lancair Legacy 2000. He snagged the Gold in the Sport class four years in a row.