Air Show Report : Nellis AFB Aviation Nation 2017
Nellis AFB Air Show 2017 : USAF 70th Anniversary
Michael Cleaver covers the Aviation Nation 2017 Air and Space Expo held at Nellis AFB on November 11-12, 2017. The Nellis AFB Open House Air Show this year celebrated the U.S. Air Force's 70th Anniversary (1947-2017).
Nellis AFB Aviation Nation 2017
U.S. Air Force 70th Anniversary: Breaking Barriers since 1947
Aviation Nation 2017 Air and Space Expo celebrated the U.S. Air Force’s 70th Birthday with the theme “American Airmen: Breaking Barriers since 1947”.
The 2017 edition of Aviation Nation, or Air & Space Expo as it was titled this year, held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, was a mix of the familiar and new. As has become usual now the war fighter air power demo remained the centerpiece of the five-hour display, with support from the F-22 Raptor Demonstration and Heritage Flight being the U.S. military contribution in the air. There was not any U.S. Navy participation in the flying display this year, though a EA-18G Growler was on static.
As the 2017 air show was the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force becoming a separate service in its own right, both the static and flying display contained some notable historical references to significant events in the evolution of flight in the US, such as a replica of the Wright Flyer, a Lockheed U-2S Dragon Lady spy plane (a late addition after the cancellation of the B-2), Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer, Boeing B-25 Mitchell, and Boeing B-29 Super Fortress (Commemorative Air Force's B-29 “FiFi”).
The air show also included two fighter jets marked to commemorate the Oct. 1 shooting on the Strip, which killed 58 and wounded more than 500 others. Along with the F-16 that kicked off both Saturday and Sunday’s performance, the show featured in the static display a F-15A painted in anniversary USAF 1947-2017 scheme with also a Vegas Strong tribute painted on its left side.
The static displays themselves unfortunately involved a fair amount of clutter so that clean shots are nigh on impossible to achieve during public show days.
Legends in the air
In the air the “Texas Flying Legends” provided a classic display of warbirds including probably the most exciting take off seen for some while at a public airshow. Warren Pietsch in a Spitfire MkIXc kept low and fast along the length of the Nellis runway until a pitch up and bank at almost the end of the flight line. It was both fun and impressive to witness. Other aircraft providing great topside opportunities were a B-25J “Betty’s Dream”, FG-1D Corsair, P-40E Warhawk, TBM-3E Avenger, P-51D “Little Horse”, and the above-mentioned Spitfire MkIXc “Half Stork”. Simulated bombing and strafing runs by all aircraft were accompanied by timed explosions.
Aerobatic Entertainment consisted of the Red Eagles team flying four of the Russian designed Yak-52’s in some fine tight formations, Vicky Benzing provided an excellent display in her vintage restored WWII trainer a lovely red PT-17 Stearman biplane. Legendary Red Bull air racer Kirby Chambliss flew aerobatics later on the day.
Paul "Sticky" Strickland in the Aero L-39 Albatross jet gave some very low passes in front of the flight line and Greg W. Colyer’s T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker”, flown by Tim Tebow, gave a graceful if slightly distant display.
USAF Warfighter demonstration
The undoubted centerpiece of the day was the USAF Warfighter demonstration – something the Nellis AFB Air Show is now well known for. A simulated attack on the air base using the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center’s own assets. Designed to highlight Air Superiority capabilities, Close Air Support, and Combat Search And Rescue in an entertaining but reasonably realistic manner.
The bad guys as usual were the 64th Aggressor Squadron in their F-16s. They began the attack on the field as always, however this year they were supported by a Mi-24 'Hind' gunship, one of two owned by the Texas Cold War Air Museum. This definitely added a bit more aggression to the ground attack role. Mi-24 Bort 118 is owned by CWAM, and jointly operated with VTS Aviation and Alpha-1 Aerospace.
Also a first was the participation of a pair of F-35A Lightning IIs, alongside the two F-15C Eagles. The F-35As manoeuvred around the base a lot, going in and out of reheat frequently and making loud passes directly over the flight line.
Providing ground support to the troops were two A-10C Thunderbolt IIs. Interestingly the F-35As covered both air superiority and air support roles during the demo alongside the two dedicated legacy platforms for these roles. The demonstration is structured so that there is always something going on and much head swiveling and twisting is needed to keep up with the 20 minutes or so of the intense action. Both the F-35As and F-15Cs used flares and, during the A-10C attack runs, coordinated ground explosions were used to add to the drama.
The combined air and ground demo represented by Squadrons of Nellis AFB keeps getting better. Its clear that a lot of planning goes into this part of the show. The pilots do a great job of keeping the aircraft in front of the flight line for most of the time, and over the desert and mountains release quantities of flares. The ground show can be difficult to observe if not in the center of the display line, but one can’t be everywhere!
USAF F-22 Raptor and Thunderbirds
The F-22 Raptor display was as usual impressive, it’s amazing to appreciate this 5th generation fighter first appeared over 10 years ago at a Nellis show. This was the last display of Maj Daniel "Rock" Dickinson who put the aircraft through its by now familiar paces. At at the end of the demonstration the F-22 was joined by two A-10s Warthogs along with one P-51 for the Heritage flying formation which made several passes along the crowd line. For me this was one of the highlights of the show as it was quite an unusual formation, especially as when in the UK (and many airshows in the U.S.) the Raptor is more often than not flown with just a P-51.
Even though some advertised acts such as the Bremont Horsemen and the B-2 didn’t make the final show, The Thunderbirds as the headliners rounded off another very enjoyable show that saw some 86,000 attendees on the Saturday.
A-10C Thunderbolt II Bonus
Prior to arriving at Nellis AFB I made a trip to the famous Jedi Transition, Rainbow Canyon, or Star Wars Canyon depending on the name used. It is easily accessible and because of this and recent media coverage (including by CNN) getting more and more popular.
This Canyon is an exciting area to visit, though hours can be spent staring at canyon walls with nothing to photograph. When something does appear its one of the best locations for photography in the world! Particularly when that something is a military jet.
On their way to the Nellis AFB air show the Heritage Flight's A-10C Thunderbolt IIs flew through the Canyon, making passes in both directions.
And there was one more “first” probably going unnoticed by many – NASA Jet Propulsion Lab had a stand in one of the hangars at the back of the show. A fantastic model of Enceladus the “Ocean Moon” complete with hydrothermal activity! This accompanied a one quarter scale model of the Cassini Spacecraft.
Nellis AFB is photographically very scenic with mountains providing an impressive backdrop, but getting good illumination on the aircraft remains the challenge for those of us confined to the flight line locations – as even most “media” are. My usual solution is to keep to the north or speedway end of the action, where the light improves as the day moves on. This year the weather was beautiful on Saturday but gray and cloudy on Sunday.
Equipment used was a 100mm-400mm zoom with full frame body for taxiing shots and take-offs and a 500mm (sometimes plus 1.4 converter) and a crop body for aerial shots particularly during the air power demo.
Last Modified: 28 January 2018