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The Story of the 1929-1949 National Air Races

Publisher: National Air Race Project Production

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The National Air Race Project, a non-profit organization created with the intention of preserving the history of air racing and educating the public of the ‘significant aviation advancements achieved through air racing’ (see their Web site at www.NationalAirRaces.Net) has recently made available this DVD outlining the rich history of the National Air Races, 1929-1949.

The DVD, first available to race fans at the 2007 Reno National Championship Air Races, in Reno, Nevada, is a riveting aviation documentary, showing the creation of air races as a national event that drew up to 500,000 spectators over the 10-day event, even during the midst of the Great Depression. The DVD chronicles the air races, year-by-year, chapter by chapter, allowing the viewer to skip to specific years for viewing or research purposes. Over 600 still shots, many never-before-published, and almost a full hour of vintage film depicts the pilots, their planes and the exciting race footage. Included are fascinating shots of the Cleveland’s airport expansion (where an 85,000-seat grandstand was built and downtown trolley lines were diverted for air race usage), made the permanent home of the National Air Races in 1931. Some of the most exciting footage includes the dangerous ‘horserace’ starts of the early pylon races, where all aircraft started the race at once down the backstretch.

This DVD also shows the remarkable intersection of amateur, professional and military aviation technology through the years, as privately sponsored pilots, governments, both domestic and foreign, as well as the small ‘midget plane’ pilots vied for the coveted Bendix, Thompson and other cross country and pylon races. Vintage film, narrated by newscasters of the time, evince the drama of the events as they happened, including tragic crashes that occasionally occurred. Photos of the pilots, such as Roscoe Turner, Jimmy Doolittle, Jimmy Whiteman and Louise Thaddon illuminate these aviation giants and their aircraft. Also explained are the reasons for the demise of the National Air Races in 1949, including Bill Odom’s, flying Jackie Cochran’s modified P-51 ‘Begin the Beguine,’ crash into a residential community killing two people on the ground.

The DVD ends with an Epilogue, discussing the re-creation of the Air Races at Stead Field, near Reno Nevada, and the growth of the National Air Races to present time since they were re-created there in 1964.

History buffs will enjoy the previously unpublished material available, as well as the carefully choreographed photographs and narrative (with the voice talents of Gary Nolan). Aviation enthusiasts will enjoy early views of historic aircraft, pilots and airports. (The National Air Races were held in Los Angeles Mines Field for two years) as well as discussions of the winning aircraft designs and who created them.

This DVD would be a positive addition to the aviation history buff’s video collection.

Jerri Bergen