Incredible Group of Aircraft from the U.S. Air Force’s Elite Nellis AFB Test and Evaluation Squadron.
There are good aviation photos, great aviation photos and exceptional aviation photos we may never see again. This photo from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada is definitely in the last category.
The photo, shared on the official Nellis AFB Facebook page and credited to the USAF, shows a unique formation of today’s most advanced tactical combat aircraft in a rare formation flight. A formation like this has not even been seen during the last two Nellis AFB Aviation Nation Air and Space Expos in 2016 and 2017.
The formation includes, as you can see, an F-16C Fighting Falcon, an F-22 Raptor, an F-35A Lighting II, an F-15C Eagle and a two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle, an A-10 Thunderbolt II. Each of the aircraft (not all fighters but mostly multi-role warplanes) wears the distinctive “OT” tail code for the “Operational Test” squadron that is part of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group.
The 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, or “TES”, operates this cross-section of Air Force combat aircraft not only for testing and evaluation of existing and developmental hardware on the aircraft such as new weapons, avionics, software and communications systems but perhaps more interestingly, new tactics for the aircraft to be used singly and in conjunction with each other and the rest of the Air Force.
One fascinating recent observation that may be (and may not be) related to 422nd TES expansion of combat tactics was the appearance of F-22 Raptor air superiority fighters flying low level, terrain masking flights through the nearby Rainbow Canyon low flying area in Death Valley, California. The F-22 was originally intended as an air superiority fighter and would, as such, have little need to fly low-level terrain masking infiltration flights. But as F-22s have been used in the strike role in Syria already, perhaps the appearance of the “OT” tail code Raptors in the Canyon suggests an expansion in the F-22’s role in the future.
The incredible photo was shot by Jake Melampy who manages Reid Air Publications in Trenton, Ohio, a publisher of an impressive assortment of aircraft reference books detailing markings and technical information for everyone from intelligence analysts to plastic scale modelers. Jake is a highly accomplished photographer with significant experience in air-to-air photoshoots which are deceivingly difficult to do well.
Top image: unique formation including each of the aircraft currently flown by the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nellis AFB. (Photo: USAF by Jake Melampy)