Aviation Nation 2014 – Nellis Air Force Base
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
November 12, 2014
Nellis Air Force Base, just north of Las Vegas, Nevada, hosted it’s annual open house entitled: Aviation Nation 2014 on November 8th and 9th. Aviation Nation 2014 was the last military air show in North America for the 2014 calendar year. Back from a one-year hiatus, after U.S. government budget sequestration cuts forced cancellation of the 2013 show, Aviation Nation 2014 presented an impressive lineup of live and static military aircraft, along with solid civilian performances.
Nellis Air Force Base, the host to exercises such as Red Flag, Green Flag, JFEX (Joint Forcible Entry Exercise), and Advanced Integration (part of the USAF Weapons School graduation), has gone by many names throughout the years. What began as McCarran Field, was re-named: Las Vegas Army Airfield, then: Las Vegas Air Force Base, became Nellis Air Force Base in April, 1950. Since then, Nellis Air Force Base has grown to be a major force in advanced combat aviation training. As home to the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, 414th Combat Training Squadron (Red Flag), 547th Intelligence Squadron and the 549th Combat Training Squadron (Green Flag-West), Nellis AFB has a major role in the combat readiness of aviators from the U.S. armed forces and allied forces.
Nellis AFB is also home to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, also known as, the “Thunderbirds”. The Thunderbirds are one of the oldest active squadrons in the USAF. With roots dating back to 1917, the Thunderbirds officially began as a “demonstration team” in 1953. Back then, the Thunderbirds flew the Republic F-84 Thunderjet with a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star serving as the narrator aircraft. Today, the Thunderbirds fly the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon. It seems fitting that the Thunderbird’s final performance of the calendar year would take place at Aviation Nation 2014 at their home base at Nellis AFB.
After not having an air show at Nellis AFB in 2013, there was a lot of anticipation towards this year’s show. The published list of aerial performances was solid and the list of static displays was also impressive. One of the key benefits to an air show in Nevada in November is the high probability of fantastic weather. Clear skies and 75 degree weather are the norm this time of year in the Nevada desert. Combine the great weather with a great air show with the potential for more fun on the Las Vegas strip in the evenings and you can quickly see why Aviation Nation is such a popular air show.
One of the great things about an air show is the arrival and departure of the air show performers and static displays. Aviation enthusiasts and photographers have an opportunity to observe and/or photograph aircraft that would not normally be seen arriving/departing at a particular base. Of course, observing and/or photographing the arrivals and departures is contingent upon having good places off-base with an optimal view of the aircraft. Fortunately, there are some great locations to observe/photograph from around Nellis AFB. We have outlined some of those locations HERE. The bulk of the arrivals typically take place on the Thursday before the show if there is a private show on Fridays. The remaining aircraft typically trickle in on Friday. It is always good to confirm whether this is the case with someone locally. For departures, you can ask the pilots and/or crew of the aircraft while you are at the airshow. They will often provide a specific timeframe they are scheduled for. Observing/photographing the arrivals and departures can be a very rewarding experience and add to the value of the air show. In the case of Aviation Nation 2014, it was an opportunity to observe/photograph aircraft such as an Boeing RC-135 Cobra Ball, an Boeing E-3 Sentry, a Rockwell B-1 Lancer, and many others.
Besides aerial performances, one of the great benefits of air shows is the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with the aircraft, along with the pilots and crew of the aircraft. Along with this interactive experience, people can purchase squadron gear, which helps support the individual squadrons. Aviation Nation 2014 provided an impressive array of static displays. From large “heavies” such as the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, Rockwell B-1 Lancer, Lockheed C-130 Hercules, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, and the Boeing E-3 Sentry, to the fighters, attack and strike aircraft such as the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog), McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle/Strike Eagle, General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, Panavia Tornado, and the Eurofighter Typhoon, to specialty aircraft such as the McDonnell Douglas QF-4 Phantom II, General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, and the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, to current generation stealth aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, there were plenty of military static displays to please anyone’s taste. There were also some great former-military now-civilian specimens such as a MiG-15, Douglas C-47 Skytrain (DC-3), and a Cessna A-37 Dragonfly. If applicable, many of the aircraft were displayed with a simulated “load” which included inert bombs and missiles, targeting pods, etc…This gave visitors the true sense of the firepower that these aircraft can present. With larger cargo aircraft such as the C-5 Galaxy, visitors were able to walk through the cargo area and get a feel for the size of the load these aircraft can carry.
The Aviation Nation 2014 aerial display provided a nice balance of the airpower of yesteryear and the current USAF airpower in a dynamic show. This year’s show was kicked off after the National Anthem by a flyover of a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor paired with a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
Throughout the show, the theme was clear. It was to show the audience the firepower of yesterday and today, and how this firepower is used in given scenarios. For example, for a Korean Conflict Reenactment, a MiG-15 flew against F-86 Sabres. With the Warbird flight, a F4U Corsair, F8F Bearcat, P-51 Mustang, and an F6F Hellcat, flew with a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero, to help inspire visions of WWII. A wonderful L-39 Albatross demonstration highlighted the maneuverability and flexibility of this aircraft.
One of the most impressive demonstrations was the Air-to-Ground Demonstration which included 2 A-10’s, 2 F-16’s, 2 F-15’s, and 2 F-15E’s. In this demonstration, the two aggressor F-16’s acted the role of the enemy while the other aircraft acted either in an air support or ground support role. Throughout the demonstration, these aircraft made several passes and a few set off flares to simulate munitions. For the air-to-ground support portion, two HH-60 Pave Hawks were utilized in a Combat Search and Rescue Role (CSAR).
Another impressive demonstration was the F-22 Demonstration. The F-22 is one of the USAF’s fastest jets with tremendous air-to-air capabilities with stealth ability. As a fifth-generation air superiority fighter with stealth capabilities, there is no aircraft like it in the world. During this demonstration the audience got to see some of the Raptor’s capabilities up close. From it’s ability to climb, to the Raptor’s ability to appear to stop in mid-air, the audience was not disappointed with the demonstration. The F-22 Demonstration finale included a Heritage Flight with the F-22 flying with two F-86 Sabres.
The “grand finale” came in the form of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” and their final performances of 2014. The remarkable abilities of the Thunderbird pilots and the precision of their performance always amazes audiences. What is also amazing is capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. This decades old aircraft continues to show it’s air-to-air capabilities with the Thunderbird’s performances.
Overall, Aviation Nation 2014 was a great air show. Whether you were there for the static aircraft, aerial performances, or just to have fun, Aviation Nation 2014 had a lot to offer everyone…especially aviation enthusiasts.
Aviation Photography Digest would like to thank MSgt David W. Miller and the rest of the 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs team for all their hard work during the planning of Aviation Nation 2014. As always, they have done an excellent job working with the media.