Sunday, November 11, 2007

Aviation Nation 2007
The Nellis AFB-Las Vegas Air Show

The US Air Force celebrated their 60th anniversary with a spectacular two-day air show at Nellis Air Force Base just north of Las Vegas. As an air show fanatic, how could I not go?

There was a wide variety of static displays, including one of my favorites, the Lockheed C5-A Galaxy:

The C5 is designed to carry three(!) M1 Abrams tanks, and as you can see it is huge outside and inside:

There was also a sample of airplanes from the 1940s on, including several Stearman biplane trainers in both Navy and Army colors, an AT-6, a C-47, a B-17 Flying Fortress, and a B-25 Mitchell. Here's the nose art from the B-17 and B-25:

There was also some examples of Korean War-era planes including a Mig-15, an F-86 Sabrejet, and it's immediate predecessor the F-80/T-33:

The F-80 actually was sent to Korea but proved to be no match for the Mig-15; the F-86 was rushed into production forthwith and proved to be a very fine Mig killer.

While the jets were fine for air-to-air combat, the bulk of ground support was done using reciprocating-engine propellor-driven airplanes. The Marines used the F4-U Corsair, while the Navy and the Air Force both used the Douglas Skyraider:

The Skyraider served on into Vietnam and was very popular. As an aside, my father flew these off of straight-deck carriers back in the late '50s and early '60s.

Speaking of the Navy, they did have a minor presence here with a static flight simulator trailer and a recruiting booth. The Marines and the Army were present also, with recruiting booths, but the Air Force kept its fellow services well back from the flight line! Even more notable (to this ex-swabbie) was that although the F-18 Hornet put on a show, it was a CF-18 Hornet from the Canadian Air Force:

I could have sworn I heard someone whisper, "Better a sister in a whorehouse than a brother flying for the Navy!" Probably my imagination....

The civilian flyers weren't left out, both with the classic military planes as shown above, and with purpose-built sport acrobatic aircraft. The Red Bull Flying Team put on one awesome display, with pilot Kirby Chambliss and his Extra 300 doing everything from the mundane to the incredible... check out this Lomcevak:

You can see from the trailing of the smoke how the plane is tumbling, instead of flying, moving horizontally in the direction that the bottom of the plane is pointed. The Red Bull helicopter was doing loops and barrel rolls, too, and it literally dove after the skydiving team while Chambliss was doing rings around the whole formation as the helicopter and skydivers free-fell. I've never seen a crazier aerobatic show.

Of course, what Air Force celebration would be complete without one of the BUFFs making an appearance?

The aircrew opened up the bomb doors for a simulated run, with special-effects explosions on the ground (the EOD folks were having a field day blowing off C-4 underneath jugs of diesel fuel for that 'napalm' effect).

Of course, all of this was merely a prelude to the main event... the Thunderbirds:

Note that the pilot in the F-16 below is Major Nicole Malachowski, one of two female Thunderbirds (the other is Major Samantha Weeks, flying the #6 Opposing Solo (the upside-down plane, above):

All good things must come to an end, as the Thunderbirds park their steeds on the Nellis flightline, with Las Vegas in the background:

But wait, the Air Force wasn't done yet... seems that something had been watching us all day (a Predator drone, complete with Hellfire missiles!):

The Air Force's ground attack community put in an appearance with the A-10 Thunderbolt II, also known as the 'Warthog'. This tank-killing plane was designed around its 30mm 6-barreled electric Gatling gun, shooting projectiles the size of Coke bottles at a rate of 70 per second. Ouch!

Interestingly, there was not a single F-15 Eagle at the air show. I believe that all F-15s are grounded due to concerns about fatigue after an F-15 came apart during a training flight in the midwest a few weeks ago. The Air Force couldn't let the celebration end without some fighter presence. The best surprise of the airshow was an appearance by the brand-new F-22 Raptor:

Note the unique exhaust signature with its multiple rings:

The Raptor was joined by a little bit of Air Force history in the form of a P-51 Mustang from WWII, an F-4 Phantom from the Vietnam era, and an A-10 Warthog from the Gulf War, for a final flyby....

And thus ended a fantastic airshow.

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