Naval Aviation: A Day at NAS Fallon


Report and photos by George Karavantos

May 16, 2022

Few locations are as important to US naval aviation as NAS Fallon. Located in a remote corner of northern Nevada, about an hour east of Reno, is the place where some of the navy’s most important tactical training is being conducted. George Karavantos reports.

It is the home of the Naval Air Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC).

The NAWDC provides high level of training that transforms tactical naval aviators into superior war fighters. In addition, the station is home to Fighter Squadron Composite VFC-13 ‘Saints’, which flies the F-5N/F Tiger II in the fleet support role. This squadron is tasked with providing adversary ‘Red Air’ for the visiting fleet squadrons, including certain elements of the TOPGUN course.

Fallon is all about tactical training, therefore it forms an integral element of unit final workup prior to combat deployments. NAS Fallon is also a prerequisite stop for all Carrier Air Wings during their final preparation prior to deployment.


Squadrons come here for unit-level evolutions such as the Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) training, which is intended to maximize the tactical proficiency of strike fighter aircrews across the full spectrum of mission sets by using academic lectures, simulator events, and tactical training sorties.

This month’s turn was Carrier Air Wing’s 17 (CVW-17) based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. CVW-17 consists of eight squadrons and one detachment:

Code              Insignia    Nickname    Assigned Aircraft

VFA-22    Strike Fighter Sqn 22    Fighting Redcocks    F/A-18F

VMFA-323    Marine Fighter Attack Sqn 323    Death Rattlers        F/A-18C

VFA-94         Strike Fighter Sqn 94    Shrikes    F/A-18F

VFA-137      Strike Fighter Sqn 137    Kestrels     F/A-18E

VAQ-139      Electronic Attack Sqn 139    Cougars    EA-18G

VAW-116  Early Warning Sqn 116 Sun Kings E-2C

HSC-6    Helicopter Sea Combat Sqn 6    Indians      MH-60S

HSM-73   Helicopter Maritime Strike Sqn 73   Battlecats  MH-60R

VRC-30    Fleet Logistics Support Sqn 30  Providers    C-2A

“Completing the SFARP has been a tremendously valuable experience for our pilots,” stated the detachment officer in charge for the Shrikes. “The syllabus required everyone to rise to the challenge and achieve very high levels of tactical knowledge and performance in missions that ranged from urban close air support to offensive counter air.”


The quiet, remote desert of north Nevada isn’t quite where you’d expect the US Navy to perfect its war fighting skills. However, this is actually the perfect overland environment for pilots and weapons systems officers (WSOs) to be honing their skills. TOPGUN isn’t just a film from the 1980s, it isn’t a competition, it’s a training school, and today it remains an integral part of Navy’s high-end strike fighter aircraft syllabus. 

What was once a dedicated “TOPGUN’ school for naval aviators has become a much more complex and arguably an important training center. The so-called Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) is the Navy’s center of excellence for air combat training and tactics development.  NAWDC trains naval aviation in advanced Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) across assigned combat mission areas enforcing combat proficiency standards. 

NAWDC provides service to aircrews, squadrons and air wings throughout the United States Navy through flight training, academic instructional classes, and direct operational and intelligence support. The command consists of more than 120 officers, 140 enlisted and 50 contract personnel.

Today NAWDC features 4 primary courses, TOPGUN (Super Hornets); HAVOC (EA-18G Growlers), TOPDOME (E2-C/D Hawkeyes) and SEAWOLF (MH-60R ASW Seahawks).


F-5N/F Tiger II:

The Northrop F-5 Tiger II continues to serve at naval aviation in the adversary training role. The fleet includes 30 upgraded single-seat F-5Ns and a pair of two-seat F-5Fs that are operated by two Naval Reserve squadrons. The US Navy completed the acquisition of 44 Tiger IIs from the Swiss government in a reverse Foreign Military Sales program that began in 2000. The final upgraded aircraft was delivered to Northrop Grumman at its St Augustine, Florida, facility in April 2009. Under the US Navy’s F-5 acquisition/ recapitalization program, Northrop Grumman upgraded 43 F-5Es to F-5N configuration and converted three of the single-seat Swiss aircraft into two-seaters by replacing the F-5E forward fuselage with a refurbished US Navy F-5F forward fuselage.

F-16A/B Fighting Falcon:

The US Navy acquired a fleet of 22 single-seat F-16Ns and four two-seat TF-16Ns for use in the adversary role. The aircraft, which were based on the USAF’s Block 30 F-16C version, arrived in 1988. The discovery of fatigue issues caused the fighters to be retired after just 10 years of service. The US Navy later acquired 10 late-model Block 15 F-16As and four F-16Bs that had been destined for the Pakistan Air Force.

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George Karavantos
Photojournalist at Aviation Photography Digest
George Karavantos is from Athens, Greece. His love with military aviation started at the age of 10 when he accidentally read a Greek aviation magazine. Since then, he never stopped reading about fighter aircraft and taking photos of them. He was too tall to become a fighter pilot, so he became an airline pilot. Nowadays he is a Captain and a Flight Instructor on the A320 aircraft. Despite his profession, military aviation will always be his obsession.
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