At the start of the year when deciding which air shows around the world I would like to attend, Aviation Nation 2016, held at Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert, was one of the first onto that list. Not only is Nellis AFB a location that anyone with even a passing interest in military aircraft should visit, it also allows you to spend a week in Vegas!
This year’s show was all about the celebration of 75 years of air power at Nellis. From its humble beginnings as an army air field in 1941, Nellis has grown to be one of the most important US military installations in the country.
Nellis is the home base for the USAF Thunderbirds and this was to be their final display of the season.
It was also to be the last official showing of the venerable QF-4 Phantom II. This alone has helped bring more than 250,000 people through the gates over the 3 day event.
From amazing military displays to jaw dropping civilian performers, Aviation Nation was an outstanding success.
As the sun set at around 5PM on the Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t help to think that over the last few days I had been privileged to attend one of the best shows of the year.
With a great range of aircraft on static and a host of impressive aerial displays, Aviation Nation delivered on its promise to be an event not to be missed.
The trip started straight away when I arrived at McCarran airport on the Wednesday before the show. I jumped into the rental car (a convertible Chevy of course!) and headed directly to the Las Vegas speedway.
The Las Vegas speedway, a hot spot for car enthusiast to watch cars that can only turn in one direction, is also famous around the world for its amazing views of Nellis AFB arrivals & departures. Although the sun position only gets good after lunch, the afternoon lighting is some of the best around, with amazing mountain ranges in the background.
By the time I arrived most of the day’s flying had finished, but I did manage to catch this shot of a C-130 departing into the sunset.
Thursday morning started at around 8:00am up at the speedway, and this is where I stayed until sunset.
The day started slowly but gradually built up as it went on. The main goal was to catch the scheduled arrival of the two QF-4 Phantoms at around 15:00.
The crowd grew in number…..I would estimate around 100 persons lined the road as we hit mid afternoon.
Thursday was the unofficial arrivals day, but we also saw plenty of flying from the regular & visiting units that are based at Nellis.
The majority of arrivals were scheduled to land in between the launch and recovery of the afternoon sortie of the local units.
This gave ATC a window of about 2 hours to try and receive the majority of display aircraft, both static and flying.
Eventually wave after wave of aircraft arrived, with almost every sector of aviation accounted for. Everything from fast jets to transports, warbirds and even flying boats made their approaches.
Even as the last light disappeared behind the ranges a few stragglers continued to arrive.
Friday was spent at the other end of Nellis on a road called East Cheyenne Ave. This offers a good mix of display passes and landing shots.
With basically the full program being run for the Family & Veterans Day on base, it provided us photogs with a practice run of what is flown and where, including the USAF Thunderbirds.
Saturday morning started with the usual horrible alarm at 5am. A quick stop for coffee and a bagel saw us charged and near the front of the line for the buses to the show. Overall, considering the volume of people that the organizers needed to move, the transport arrangements were adequate.
A quick few hours was spent running around the static line-up before setting in at the fence line at the southern end of the display axis.
Of cause the star of the show was the QF-4 Phantom II from Holloman AFB. This put on a great display for the crowd with plenty of speed and afterburner!
Overall Saturday was a success although a high level overcast that set in around 14:00 did present a challenge for photography.
Sunday on the other hand was shaping up to be a cracker of a day. Light & variable winds, clear skies and awesome company set the tone from early on in the day.
With a fence line position setup more to the north than on Saturday, we were in a prime position to grab some amazing shots.
And amazing it was, the show was finished off, yet again, with the ever impressive USAF Thunderbirds.
It’s not just the airshow that makes trips like this worthwhile. The people you meet and the friendships you make are really what stay with you the longest. Meeting like minded people who share the same passion for aircraft and photography are, in the end, the best part of the adventure.
I’d like to also extend a big thank you to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who make events like these possible. As always we at ASO thank you for your service.
Until next year, goodbye.