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September 17, 2014

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Danger in air again at Reno National Air Races

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Marilyn Newton / AP

Vic McMann, left, of Point Roberts, Wash., and Jim Thomas of Livermore, Calif., vie for position in the first T-6 race of the day Wednesday Sept. 10, 2008, at the Reno National Championship Air Races.

Reno Air Races crash

A P-51 Mustang airplane crashes into the edge of the grandstands at the Reno Air show on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. The World War II-era fighter plane flown by a veteran Hollywood stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward plunged Friday into the edge of the grandstands during the popular air race creating a horrific scene strewn with smoking debris. Launch slideshow »

Danger is in the air again on Nevada's high desert where vintage Word War II fighters are roaring out of the Valley of Speed as loud as ever, their paint jobs just as bright and the enthusiasm of loyal aviation buffs never stronger.

But it's not exactly business as usual at the 49th annual National Championship Air Races a year after Jimmy Leeward lost control of his P-51 Mustang and it slammed into box seats on the edge of the grandstand, killing the pilot, 10 others on the ground and injuring more than 70.

Some changes are more obvious: Concrete barriers have been added in front of the grandstand and there's a wider safety buffer between racers and fans.

But some things don't change, like the inherent risk to pilots in souped-up muscle planes racing at speeds that sometimes exceed 500 mph.

The air races start Wednesday and run through Sunday.