2017 Event Review

Nellis AFB Aviation Nation, November 11-12, 2017

Location: Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, NV
Admission: Free, upgraded chalet seating available
Parking:Free, off-site at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Rating out of 10: 9
Visitors to the RNZAF Air Tattoo

Interesting tail art on an F-15 Eagle

The 2017 Nellis Air Force Base Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo took place on November 11-12 to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force. In addition to the special anniversary, Team Nellis also payed tribute to the people who were killed in the Las Vegas shooting on October 1st with the theme "Vegas Strong." Headlining the show was the hometown U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds along with the F-22 Raptor Demo Team, Nellis Warfighter Demo featuring many home based fighters including the new F-35, and much more!

Parking opened up at 8:00 am at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and buses started transporting spectators to the base at 9:00 am when gates officially opened for the event. Prior to flying activities, people got to check out the many static display aircraft and tents that were available on base. One of the main attractions on the ground was an F-15 Eagle specially painted up to commemorate the Air Force's 70th Anniversary and Vegas Strong.

Flying officially started at 11:00 am when a Nellis based F-16 Fighting Falcon took to the skies with a special Vegas Strong paint scheme. The F-16 performed multiple passes which featured the top side of the aircraft with the Vegas skyline displayed on it. After the F-16 landed, the U.S. Air Force Academy Wings of Blue Parachute Team took to the skies to jump for the opening ceremonies. This year's show featured more aerobatic performers unlike the last few years. Highlighting the aerobatics were Vicky Benzing in her vintage Boeing Stearman, Kirby Chambliss with his Red Bull Edge 540, Red Bull Air Force Skydivers and Bo 105 Helicopter, and Jerry "Jive" Kerby in his RV-8A who even raced Bill Braack in his Smoke 'n' Thunder Jet Car.


Highlighting the warbird performers at the event were the Texas Flying Legends who showcased six aircraft from their vast WWII collection. These aircraft included the P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, F4U Corsair, Supermarine Spitfire, TBM Avenger, and B-25 Mitchell. All six of the aircraft flew together in formation before splitting to perform multiple solo passes for the crowd. In addition to the Texas Flying Legends, the Red Eagles Formation Team also took to the skies showcasing their various formations in their four Yak-52 Russian trainer aircraft.

In addition to WWII warbirds, there were a few classic jets showcased in the air. The T-33 Shooting Star known as "Ace Maker II" performed a solo flight demonstration. The main pilot Gregory "Wired" Colyer was unable to perform the demonstration due to an arm injury which lead to Tim Tibo flying in his place. Former Thunderbirds Solo and current Patriots Jet Team pilot Paul "Sticky" Strickland also flew a solo flight in his Czech L-39 Albatross trainer jet. In his routine "Sticky" showcased multiple low passes in the L-39.

One of the biggest highlights of the flying activities was the U.S. Air Force Warfighter Demonstration which featured many home based Nellis aircraft. The first wave of the demonstration showcased Air-to-Air capabilities with two F-16 Fighting Falcon Aggressors who simulated an attack on the base. Two F-15C Eagles later took to the skies to demonstrate a dogfight against the F-16s. The simulated dogfights included many tight turns in addition to defense flares. The second wave of the demonstration was the Air-to-Ground capabilities portion which featured a rare Russian Mi-24 Hind simulating an attack run on the base. Two A-10 Thunderbolt II's entered the scene to face the enemy ground troops that were attacking. Additional support came by two F-35A Lightning II's which made their very first appearance in the Nellis Warfighter Demo. The F-35s showcased many afterburner passes and even launched flares In addition to the close air support by the A-10s and F-35s, two HH-60G Pave Hawks flew in to release multiple ground troops to support with the ground battle. After the demonstration was completed, every aircraft returned to the crowd in 2-ship formation to bank for landing.

Another major military highlight of the show was the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team based out of Langley AFB, VA. Piloting the F-22 was Maj. Dan "Rock" Dickinson who was performing his last show at Nellis as the team's pilot. In his routine, "Rock" showcased the many capabilities of the F-22 with tight turns, high speed passes, and power loops After the solo demo was completed, the F-22 joined formation with two A-10 Thunderbolt II's and a P-51 Mustang for the Heritage Flight. The Heritage Flight is a rare opportunity for the public to witness Air Force fighters of the past and present in formation together. Piloting the A-10's were Maj. Dan Levy and Capt. Chad Rudolph, both of the A-10 West Heritage Flight Team. This marked the team's final airshow performance before the team becomes the A-10 Demo Flight Team in 2018. After the Heritage Flight, "Rock" landed the F-22 one last time as the team's demonstration pilot before handing duties over to Maj. Paul "Loco" Lopez.

Headlining the airshow was the United States Air Force Flight Demonstration Squadron the Thunderbirds who performed their last show of the year at their home base in Nellis. The Thunderbirds, lead by Lt. Col. Jason Heard, showcased many maneuvers including formation flights, solo passes, and formation breaks. To pay tribute to the people affected by the Las Vegas shooting, the team painted "Las Vegas Strong" on the lower left fins of their aircraft. This show marked the final performances by Left Wingman Maj. Ryan Bodenheimer, Slot Pilot Maj. Nick Krajicek, and Lead Solo Maj. Alex Turner before giving their duties to new pilots in 2018. After the Thunderbirds aerial performance was complete, the team walked over to the crowd line to meet fans and sign autographs. In addition, the pilots were also greeted by their family and loved ones after a long 2017 airshow season officially came to an end.

After flying activities were completed, the crowd was able to continue visiting the various static displays and tents that were offered before departing the base on bus back to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Special thanks to the Nellis airmen, performers, volunteers, spectators, and sponsors for making Aviation Nation 2017 a success!

Flying display participants:

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Demo Team

U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight - F-22, 2x A-10, and P-51

U.S. Air Force Warfighter Demo - 2x F-35A, 2x F-16C Aggressors, 2x F-15C, 2x A-10C, 2x HH-60G, Mi-24 Hind

Vegas Strong F-16 Fighting Falcon

U.S. Air Force Academy Wings of Blue Parachute Team

Texas Flying Legends - P-51, P-40, F4U, Spitfire, TBM, B-25

Tim Tibo T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker II”

Paul “Sticky” Strickland - L-39 Albatross

Red Eagles Formation Team

Vicky Benzing Boeing Stearman

Kirby Chambliss Red Bull Aerobatics

Red Bull Air Force Helo & Jumpers

Jerry “Jive” Kerby Wild Blue Rodeo

Bill Braack Smoke ’n’ Thunder Jet Car

Static aircraft

F-22A Raptor - 433d WPS, Nellis AFB, NV

F-35A Lightning II - 6th WPS, Nellis AFB, NV

F-16C Fighting Falcon - 16th WPS, Nellis AFB, NV

2x F-16C Fighting Falcon Aggressor (Blue Spinter & Shark) - 64th AGRS, Nellis AFB, NV

F-15A Eagle Vegas Strong - 757th AMU, Nellis AFB, NV

2x F-15E Strike Eagle - 17th WPS, Nellis AFB, NV

A-10C Thunderbolt II - 66th WPS, Nellis AFB, NV

EA-18G Growler - VAQ-140 “Patriots,” NAS Whidby Island, WA

U-2S Dragon Lady - 9th OG, Beale AFB, CA

AC-130H Spectre - 27th SOG, Canon AFB, NM

B-1B Lancer - 28th BS, Dyess AFB, TX

B-52H Stratofortress - 2d OG, Barksdale AFB, LA

C-17A Globemaster III - 445th AW, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH

C-5M Super Galaxy - 60th AMW, Travis AFB, CA

MQ-9 Reaper - 432d Wing, Creech AFB, NV

HH-60G Pave Hawk - 66th RS, Nellis AFB, NV

E-3C Sentry - 552nd ACW, Tinker AFB, OK

B-29 Superfortress “FiFi”

PB4Y-2 Privateer

Report and photography by Geoffrey Arnwine for

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