Here is the reportage on the Aviation Nation 2017 - Breaking the Barriers made by George Karavantos.

Nellis Aviation Nation Air Show
Nellis Aviation Nation Air Show 2017

On November 11-12, the annual Nellis Airshow, or Aviation Nation as it is more popularly known, took place in one of the biggest bases of the USAF, located in Las Vegas. This year’s main theme was the celebration of the USAF's 70th anniversary and the show attracted around 200,000 visitors over the weekend.

For this big celebration, the show included three intriguing headings; the USAF Warfighter Demo, the Heritage Parade and the Texas Flying Legends. All sounded like they had potential to be exciting and as it turned out they were!

The first was a unique and dynamic demonstration which combined air and ground demos represented by all the Squadrons of Nellis AFB which simulated airfield air and ground attack elements. The 64th Aggressors Squadron (AGRS) F-16s provided (as might be expected) the enemy attack to get the action started. With two F-16 Aggressors passing over the runway, the call to “scramble the F-15s” saw two F-15 Eagles interceptors (from the 17th Weapons Squadron, part of the 57th Wing) thunder along the runway to join the fight.

Next, it was the turn of the A-10s for some ground attack that showed the manoeuvrability of the Warthog. The two ‘Hogs provided simulated ground attack with strafing runs and impressively timed explosions. The warthogs were being supported by two F-35s which were offering aerial cover from above.

Following the air combat phase of the demonstration a simulated rescue of a downed airman featured HH-60G rescue helicopters from the 66th Rescue Squadron and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft providing close air support. At the centre of the display, there was also one Mil Mi-24 Hind from the Threat Training Facility which was simulating the enemy's aircraft.

The new component of the close air support demonstration was seeing the F-35As transition from their air superiority role in the first demo to the air support operation in the second phase of the demo, providing simulated close air support along with the A-10Cs during the rescue demo.

For the first time at an airshow the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter demonstrated its role in both close air support and also air superiority in a single mission. The demo reinforced the role of F-35A as a complementary asset to the A-10C, and an aircraft that can use its advanced capability to fill the role of the Warthog in addition to performing the air dominance mission. The demo highlighted Air Force air superiority capabilities, close air support and Combat Search and Rescue missions and capabilities of all the Squadrons of the base.

With so many jets and helicopters, much afterburner, and regular use of flares to simulate evasive tactics, it was potluck that the camera was pointed in the right direction at the right time!

The star of the show was undoubtedly the F-22 Raptor. This display was the last display of Maj Daniel "Rock" Dickinson who put the aircraft at its paces. The F-22 is a unique fighter and definitely showed its tremendous capabilities at its best. Despite the fact that we had enjoyed F-22 and "Rock's" performance in the past (RIAT was our last time), this display was exceptional! The aircraft, at the end of its display joined the formation of two A-10s Warthogs along with one P-51 for the Heritage flying formation which made several passes along the crowd line.

The U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight Program began in 1997 to commemorate the Air Force's 50th anniversary when Air Combat Command (ACC) approved the flight of an F-15 and two P-51 Mustangs. This proved so popular that it became a regular air show display in its own right. The program uses current military demonstration pilots and civilian warbird pilots to enable the displays to be undertaken. The current displays are based around the F-22, F-35A and F-16. However other aircraft such as the F-15C Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle or even the A-10 Thunderbolt II were regularly seen participating in formation displays with warbirds from the past. The Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation (AFHFF) was formed in 2010 and is a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting Heritage Displays to the public and keeping the displays flying by supporting funding of them.

The Texas Flying Legends included aircraft that dated back to World War II. The aircraft that took part in this memorable display were a B-25J Mitchell, a TBM-3E Avenger, a P-51D Mustang, a P-40E Warhawk, a FG-1D Corsair and a Spitfire Mk IX. All these aircraft made several passes in formation and simulated bombing raids with fireworks over the main runway. It was a welcome surprise to see all these warfighters gathered and flying together.

Other notable highlights of the show were the T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker” flown by Greg W. Colyer and the white russian built trainer L-39 Albatross flown by Sticky Strickland. An enjoyable addition of the display which took place on the ground and not in the air, was also the Bill Braack's "Smoke-n-Thunder" jet car. An experimental car, equipped with a Westinghouse J34-48 jet engine. This engine was originally used in the North American Buckeye T-2A aircraft. The maximum thrust of this engine is 6,000 pounds with afterburner, which is being translated into 10,000hp of Horsepower!

Another nice addition to the flying programme was the Red Eagles. A team of four Russian built Yak-52s, flown by pilots, most of them ex-military ones. The Red Bull Chambliss team with his astonishing display of his Zivko Edge 540 along with the extraordinary display of the Bo-105 helicopter and its free fall jumpers was also something to remember.

The air show was concluded by the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds. Nellis AFB is the “Home of the Thunderbirds” and it was a great opportunity to see and admire up close all the "theatrical display" of them. The display was as usual dynamic and exciting and the large open blue sky allowed the full range of the display to be appreciated.

Nellis Air show was our first visit to an American base. Our general impression from the show was more than enthusiastic. There was a great variety of star attractions and plenty for the photographer and aviation enthusiast to be happy about. The range of aircraft from the warbirds to the 5th generation F-35A, along with the incredible spectacle from all the Squadrons of the Nellis AFB offered us a unique experience that we are going to remember for quite a long time.

Nellis AFB History:

Nellis AFB was originally called McCarran Field and in 1929 it was just a small airfield serving local carrier Western Air Express. This sparsely populated open desert area was then procured in early 1941 by the city of Las Vegas and shortly thereafter leased to the US Army Air Corps (USAAC), the forerunner to the United States Air Force (USAF), for the purposes of gunnery practice and named the Las Vegas Army Air Field (LVAAF). The crews of bombers, mostly B-10, and later B-17, and B-24s, preparing for action in WWII trained here.

It was not until April 30, 1950, that the facility was named Nellis Air Force Base, after the late 1st Lt. William Harrell Nellis who, as a member of the 513th Fighter Squadron and while flying in his P-47, was shot down attacking a German convoy over Luxembourg. He was 28 and had 69 missions to his credit.

Nellis AFB Current Operations:

Nellis AFB has more squadrons than any other USAF base and the USAF Warfare Center (USAFWC) oversees the operations of the 99th Air Base Wing, 57th Wing, the Nevada Test and Training Range, 53rd Wing (at Eglin AFB), 505th Wing (at Hurlburt Field), and the 926th Wing, as well as many tenant organizations.

Nellis AFB is best known for the realistic air to air war games of the Red Flag exercise which began over forty years ago in November 1975, and was established after the Vietnam War where aircraft and pilot losses were unacceptably high. A subsequent report (the Red Baron Report) identified inadequate training as the major cause. Thus, a simulated real world combat training program was initiated.


As famous as Nellis AFB itself is the 64th Aggressor Squadron in their multi-colored jets and red stars. Aggressors are the “bad guys” that provide the US and its partners valuable experience in real air combat situations against a determined adversary.

Since 2015, the Aggressors have been supported by A-4K/N Skyhawks from the company Draken International as part of a “commercial adversary” contract with the USAF. This move was prompted by the deactivation in March 2015 of the 65th Aggressors Squadron that flew the F-15 Eagle. The cost of just one F-15 sortie equals three to four sorties through Draken. Draken’s A-4s were purchased from the Royal New Zealand Air Force and feature system capabilities similar to the F-16 MLU.

NOTES for photos:

There was the surprise unveiling of an F-16 Fighting and an F-15 painted in a special, commemorative livery honouring Las Vegas and the memory of victims lost and survivors recovering from the October 1st mass shooting.

Text and pics: George Karavantos

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