75 YEARS of AIRPOWER - Nellis AFB, Nevada

75 Years of Airpower - Nellis AFB, Nevada

by John Thow

As you may have guessed if you have spent any time with us here on slickpixels.com, we love going to Nellis Air Force Base. Nellis is the largest fighter base in the world and regularly lives up to its reputation as the premier location for fighter pilot training, as well a being a great place to witness many of the world’s top aircraft in action. Once a year that all slows down, just long enough to bring out some of the great airplanes of the past to join in the fun with the exciting front-line fighters of today’s modern Air Force. Known as Aviation Nation, the annual air show provides the public an opportunity to get up close and personal with the aircraft that defend our nation and the people that fly and maintain them.

This is the homecoming event and final show of the year for the USAF Thunderbirds. The Nellis show is a chance for the team to wrap up the

Thunderbird #4 F-16 Fighting Falcon

Thunderbird #4 starts his F-16 Fighting Falcon as the team readies for Saturday’s performance. Photo: © John Thow

Thunderbirds Pilots and crews on the flight line

Thunderbird pilots and crew members talk after Saturday’s performance. One more to go for Sunday and the 2016 show season is complete. Photo: © John Thow

DC-10 Air Tanker

DC-10 Air Tanker drops water over the Nellis field between the runways as part of the fire drop demonstration. The pink color to the water is from the fire retardant that the plane would normally carry being rinsed from the tank. Photo: Luke Thow ©

F-35A Lightning II

F-35 Demo pilot manages to squeeze a little moisture from the air, leaving vapor streaming from the wingtip. Photo: ©John Thow

 season in front of the hometown crowd. It represents the final show for outgoing team members and is the first real taste of what it is to be a Thunderbird in the public eye for incoming pilots and crew that have newly arrived and are preparing for the coming season.

This year’s show was a celebration of “75 Years of Airpower”. It was a great opportunity to feature some of the many aircraft from bygone eras, that have graced the skies over Nellis, alongside some of today’s modern air force.

Flying included a demonstration from the F-22A Raptor, and for the first time at a Nellis show, the F-35A Lightning II. At the 2015 show, we got a very brief look at the F-35 as part of the heritage flight, but this was the first time the Lightning II got into the show lineup for a more complete flight demonstration. In the photos shown here, notice the tail markings on the F-35, LF stands for Luke Field. Even though Nellis has F-35s of their own, (Nellis tails are marked OT or WA) the F-35 Demo Team hails from Luke AFB in Arizona and brings their own jet to the party wherever they go.

Another first for us at this year’s show was a water drop demonstration by a DC-10 Air Tanker being led to the target by an OV-10 Bronco. We have seen the

DC-10 on static display at Miramar shows in the past, but seeing it do its thing from the air was a real treat. Kudos to the show organizer that came up with this one, always great to see something different and get a great photo opp in the process. Watching that monster of an airplane line up low and slow for the water drop was really a sight to behold.

The show continued with U.S. Naval Aviation, represented by VFA-122, from NAS Lemoore, the Flying Eagles put on their always impressive display of the capabilities of the F/A-18F Super Hornet. This year’s Heritage Flight was led by Steve Hinton in an F-86 Sabre from the Planes of Fame Air Museum, with an F-35 and F-22 flanking him on either side. Then came the Warbirds in a series of passes, one after the other, including B-25 Mitchell “Photo Fanny”, a PB4Y Privateer, AT-6 Texan, P-63 King Cobra, T-28 Trojans, P-51 Mustang, Mig 15, and T-33 Shooting Star. The warbirds were a real crowd pleaser and the Aggressor demo has become one of our favorite parts of the show.

Luke AFB F-35 Demo Team, afterburner take-off.

Luke AFB F-35 Demo Team, afterburner take-off.
Photo: Kristin Thow ©

Luke & Kristin aim skyward to bring you all the Nellis Air Show action

Luke and Kristin focus skyward to be sure they catch all the action  Photo: J. Thow

QF-4E Phantom II with chute deployed

QF-4E Phantom makes its last air show appearance before being permanently decommissioned. Photo: © Luke Thow

QF-4E Phantom II

QF-4E makes its final air show appearance as an active duty United States Air Force asset. Photo: © John Thow

FInally, the 2016 Nellis show marked the final time, after more than fifty years, that an Active Duty F-4 Phantom will be part of an air show. QF-4E Phantom II was piloted by Ron “Elvis” King and Jim Harkins. The Phantoms were originally retired by the Air Force in 1997, but were returned to be used as aerial targets in manned and unmanned roles. The QF-4Es are being replaced by newer QF-16s that will completely fulfill the aerial target role after the retirement of the final Phantoms, based at Holloman, New Mexico in December 2016.

So that about wraps this one up, we had a great time and look forward to seeing you all again at the next Nellis Air Show.

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