“Wraith”, The Crowd-Sourced Color Scheme Aggressor F-16 Thrills Crowds at Nellis.
Aviation enthusiasts from around the world got their first chance to see the new “Wraith” color scheme aggressor F-16 of the 64th Aggressor Squadron this past weekend at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada during the Aviation Nation air show.
The unique F-16 Fighting Falcon, usually referred to as a “Viper” by aircrews, was painted in a distinctive flat black livery intended to simulate a potential adversary aircraft, in this case, an unspecified Russian aircraft.
In an impressive and innovative use of social media by the USAF 57th Wing’s commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Robert Novotny, the color scheme for the “Wraith” was selected with a crowd-sourced social media voting process on Facebook by aviation enthusiasts from around the world.
When we spoke to Russian pilots earlier this year at the MAKS 2019 air show outside Moscow about the aggressor aircraft of the 57th Wing at Nellis being painted like their fighters, the Russians told us, “We like them. It is a compliment. They look good, but not as good as our Sukhois or MiGs. We don’t have anything painted like Americans.”
The new Wraith F-16 took part in the well-known Air Power Demo at Aviation Nation. The elaborate demonstration is a simulation of an air attack on Nellis AFB by an adversary nation that is repelled by units at Nellis in a dramatic mock-dogfight and air-to-ground engagement. It is arguably one of the greatest spectacles in all of aviation.
Wraith put on a dramatic and chilling display, hurtling in over the base at low level in a simulated airstrike as air raid sirens blared across the base. The all-black aircraft with red Soviet-era markings and subdued U.S. markings struck simulated “targets” parallel to the air show crowd line in an apparent attempt to crater the runway and prevent defending aircraft from taking off. It was somewhat reminiscent of the strategy behind the historic RAF Operation Black Buck runway denial raid, the celebrated RAF Tornado raids on Iraqi airfields in the Gulf War and the F-111 strike on Libya called Operation El Dorado Canyon.
After Wraith hurtled over the airfield to the delight of aviation photographers, she broke hard left to begin a second simulated attack run. By now, the Nellis AFB defenders has conducted a spectacular maximum performance launch of an alert F-22 Raptor. Firing a fusillade of infra-red countermeasures flare, the F-22 performed a maximum performance take-off to the vertical, went inverted at about 10,000 feet, and rolled in to intercept the hapless Wraith. But the air combat theater was not over, and Wraith appeared to escape the defending F-22 with a series of maximum performance turns, even as more defending aircraft joined the fray.
In the end, the Wraith F-16 was momentarily chased off, only to reappear and “jump” a pair of F-16s attempting to drive off a (simulated) insurgent ground attack on Nellis AFB. Wraith may have scored a “kill”, may not have. Air combat (and air combat demos) can be action-packed and somewhat confusing. But the incredible flying and remarkable lighting at Nellis AFB set against the unique mountain backdrop meant that photographers were having an absolute feast getting incredible photos of the new color scheme F-16.
Social media will be awash with the new, thrilling photos of the Wraith aggressor F-16 until the next Aviation Nation when we get to shoot an entirely new series of photos, and maybe get another new aggressor color scheme on these unique aircraft.