Tag Archives: Nellis Air Force Base

Check Out This Amazing Photo of America’s Air Force Fighter Arsenal Flying Formation!

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.

This Dafydd RJ Phillips photo shows a 422nd TES F-22 Raptor in Star Wars Canyon earlier this year. (Photo: Dafydd RJ Phillips)

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)

 

U.S. Marines Request Contractors To Provide Russian-Built Mi-24 Hind Attack Helicopters

Russian Mi-24 Attack or Mi-17 Transport Helicopters Could Augment Training Authenticity.

A report in the Marine Corps Times from Friday, April 27 by journalist Kyle Rempfer revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force Training Command has filed a solicitation for contractors to provide Russian-built Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter or an Mi-17 Hip transport helicopter to serve as accurate opposing forces threat simulation aircraft.

The aircraft would be equipped with electronic tracking pods for integration into simulated combat exercises at the MCAS Yuma Range and Training Area (RTA), a large training facility in the Arizona desert. The Yuma Range and Training Area accurately replicates current and potential threat environments throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Rempfer’s report for the Marine Corps Times, the solicitation read in part,
“The [Mi-24] attack helicopter, due to its size, flight profile, firepower and defensive maneuvering capabilities, constitutes a unique threat creating a realistic, dissimilar and credible opposing force.”

In their potential role as a technically realistic opposing force flying against U.S. Marine ground forces in training the helicopters would accurately replicate the threat capabilities of many potential adversary forces. While the Mi-24 attack helicopter is primarily an air-to-ground attack helicopter the report also mentioned a potential role for any Russian helicopters acquired or contracted as providing a simulated opposing force capability against U.S. Marine Helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft to possibly include the UH-1Y Venom, AH-1Z Super Cobra and MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor.

The U.S. Marine Training Command’s request went on to read, “The scope of this effort is to provide familiarization of flight characteristics, capabilities and limitations of the foreign adversary rotary-wing and propeller driven aircraft,” according to the solicitation. “This will be accomplished by having accessibility to two foreign adversary contractor-provided aircraft that shall participate in certain exercise events as part of a realistic opposing force.”

The request for the opposing forces helicopters will include up to five annual training operations and a maximum of 40 total hours of flight time in VFR (daylight, fair weather Visual Flight Rules) conditions. Of further interest is a notation indicating interest in fixed wing aircraft. Russian fixed wing aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-27 have already been observed and photographed flying over the Nellis Training Range in Nevada.

A privately owned Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter at Nellis AFB, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

In the combined air/ground combat role most commonly performed by the U.S. Marine Corps one relevant adversary aircraft for threat simulation may include the Sukhoi Su-25 (NATO codename “Frogfoot”), although no specific information indicates an interest in the Su-25 from the U.S. Marines.

A remarkable 57 countries currently use the Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter, built at the Mil Helicopter Plant in Moscow, Russia. The aircraft is infamous in western nations for its rugged survivability and significant combat capability. The request for actual Mi-24 Hind helicopters seems to acknowledge the type’s unique and significant capabilities as a potential adversary.

There are currently at least two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters privately owned in the U.S. by the Lancaster Air Museum in Lancaster, Texas. The aircraft fly frequently at events and airshows around the country.

Air Force Identifies Thunderbird F-16 Pilot Killed in Crash at Nevada Test and Training Range.

USAF Major Stephen Del Bagno, Thunderbird #4, Was Experienced Pilot, First Year Thunderbird.

Update: a previous version of the story only mentioned the flyover at the Daytona 500 whereas the Thunderbirds have performed a display at Melbourne air show 2018, Florida.

The U.S. Air Force has identified the member of the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team who died in a training accident near Nellis AFB, Nevada yesterday morning while training for the upcoming airshow demonstration season.

USAF Major Stephen Del Bagno, listed as being from Valencia, California by ABC7 News in California, was previously the F-35A Lightning II Chief of Standardization and Evaluation at the 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Florida. He became a Thunderbird demonstration pilot in 2017 for the 2018 airshow season.

Major Del Bagno is reported to have only had the opportunity to participate in one Thunderbird public flyover at the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Florida on February 18, 2018 and to the display at Melbourne Air and Space Show, Florida, on March 24-25 prior to his fatal accident. As an experienced tactical aircraft pilot with more than 3,500 total flight hours including 1,400 hours in U.S. Air Force aircraft, Major Del Bagno began flying and rehearsing with the Thunderbirds last year and was experiencd as the Number 4 “Slot” pilot in the Thunderbird diamond formation. He had flown over 30 types of aircraft, civilian and military, during his career.

The official USAF Thunderbird page for Major Del Bagno summarized his impressive career as an exceptional aviator:

“Maj. Stephen Del Bagno is the Slot Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 4 jet. He is a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State university, and commissioned from Officer Training School, Maxwell AFB, Ala. In 2007. Before joining the Air Force, Del Bagno was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter, and a banner tow pilot. He enjoys snowboarding, water sports and spending time with family and friends. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, Del Bagno served as an F-35A Evaluator Pilot and Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Fla. He has logged more than 3,500 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot. Del Bagno is in his first season with the team and hails from Valencia, Calif.”

Major Del Bagno had replaced former Thunderbird #4 slot pilot Major Nick Krajicek, who moved within the Air Force to another assignment. Maj. Del Bagno, callsign, “Cajun”, was the first F-35A Lightning II pilot to fly on the Thunderbirds team in the F-16.

In a February 2017 release, Maj. Del Bagno talked about the capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II he was flying at the time, “This jet is going to take us to 2050 and beyond. As threats evolve, we need to continually stay ahead of them. It’s a multi role platform and this proves how versatile the aircraft can be. We can shoot missiles, we can drop bombs, so we can take the fight to the enemy.”

No further information has been released about the accident. As is common with any military aviation accident a formal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

Thunderbird diamond (credit: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Reflecting on The Raptor: F-22 Demo Team Changes Pilots for 2018.

We Get a Rare Opportunity to Meet the Outgoing and Incoming F-22 Demo Pilots.

As the 2018 air show season rapidly approaches in the United States it occurs to me that I’ve written about military aviation in some capacity since I was a kid. Today aviation journalism is my job, and I’ll tell you it is among the best jobs in the world. This story is one example why.

Along with every other author who has written about flying, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to modern-day journalists like our Editor David Cenciotti, Tyler Rogoway of The Drive, Laura Seligman, Valerie Insinna and many others, aviation has also been a passion since I was a kid.

Covering aviation is long days of travel, waiting under a hot sun or in freezing weather, sitting in a canyon or a desert waiting for something to happen. It is getting to a flight demonstration or media event hours before anyone else and staying long after it’s over to catch that one story, that one photo, that no one else may have gotten. It’s also lots of research, fact checking, and covering your ass so, when millions of people read your story it’s as accurate as you can make it. Even then, it sometimes goes wrong.

But during the heavy lifting of packing, flying, waiting, hoping, getting smacked for printing an error, getting read and shared when you write a scoop, I still have the same boyhood enthusiasm for the miracle of flight. I also still have my boyhood admiration for the women and men who fix and who fly the aircraft we write about. They are humble heroes who are larger than life. Military aviation is one of very few vocations where a young person can earn so much responsibility so quickly.

Because of my boyhood excitement for aviation, I’m more than just a journalist covering a story, I’m also a fan. While I did take journalism in school and can put on a game face as a “reporter” asking tricky questions of a Public Affairs Officer, I’ll also ask a pilot or a crew chief for an autograph or a handshake, or take a photo with the women and men who do the jobs I write about. They’re heroes to me, and I remain an unapologetic fan.

This past summer during 2017 I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time for a great story, a great transition into the 2018 air demonstration season and a great aviation moment. As is usually the case, Nellis AFB was where it happened.

The Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada is among the greatest air shows in the world. Along with MAKS in Russia, the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK, the Dubai Air Show and the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition it is unique in both setting and displays. No other show on earth provides the insight into U.S. air power that Aviation Nation does. In November 2017, the show also celebrated the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

On media day before the show opened to the public at Nellis, I got to meet both the outgoing F-22 Raptor Demo pilot and the new incoming F-22 Demo pilot. It was a unique chance to see a big transition in flight demonstration history.

For the past couple years, I’ve seen USAF Major Dan Dickinson, call sign “Rock”, fly the F-22 Raptor at flight demos around the country. Maj. Dickinson was the F-22 Aerial Demonstration Commander. He represented the USAF, the DoD and, at international airshows around the world, the face of our nation, at over 20 airshows each year. “Rock’s” team has 19 members responsible for getting the F-22 Raptor from show venue to show venue, being sure it is flight-ready and coordinating all the logistics from travel to maintenance to lodging. He also represents, at least by association, giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin, builders of the F-22 Raptor.

Outgoing USAF F-22 Demo Team pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson taxis in on his last demo. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

The Air Force estimates that every year a staggering 10 million spectators see Major Dan Dickinson fly his F-22 in person. According to statistics published by NBC Sports, that is more than double the amount of people who watched the NHL Stanley Cup Final on television. In addition to his work as the F-22 Demo Team leader and pilot, Maj. Dickinson is also an active F-22 instructor pilot for the 1st Operations Group at Langley AFB in Virginia.

Among many other fascinating facts about Major Dan Dickinson and the Air Force F-22 Demo Team, I find it remarkable that a Major in the USAF earns $111,760 USD according to a Google search, but an NHL player like Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators hockey team earns $14,000,000 USD in about the same time period, but with half the fan exposure as Maj. Dickinson gets even in NHL hockey’s biggest game series.

Unlike overpaid sport stars, if you want to talk to an American hero like Maj. Dickinson, all you have to do is walk up to him in the F-22 Demo Team tent at an airshow before or after his demonstration.

I always visit the F-22 Demo Team tent to see if Maj. Dickinson, his Crew Chief or one of the other members is there to have a chat, get a free photo or buy a patch that benefits an air force supported charity. Every time Maj. Dickinson and his team take the time to answer questions, shake hands and pose for another photo with me. I bet I have over a hundred photos with these guys, tons of autographed aircraft photos, a few profile prints of their aircraft signed by them and whatever other stuff I could collect. Every time Maj. Dickinson answers my questions with enthusiasm and interest.

I grab to opportunity for a couple autographs from F-22 Demo Pilot Dan Dickinson. (Photo: Jan Mack/TheAviationist)

“How much pressure does it take to move the sidestick?” “Have you ever worried about hypoxia?” “What is the longest time you’ve been in the cockpit?” “What was it like to take-off for the first time in an F-22?” “What is the plane like to fight with?” “What’s your favorite flight demo venue?” I never ran out of questions for Maj. Dickinson, and he always had enthusiastic answers as he signed one more autograph for me. By the way, we will provide his answers as part of a new article we will publish in the next weeks. “Rock” probably started thinking I was selling all the airshow schwag on eBay. But I wasn’t. If you visit our house the walls are covered with framed profile prints and aircraft photos, many of them from Nellis, many of them of Rock’s F-22 Raptor.

This year marks a big transition for the F-22 Demo Team. At the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB. Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson would fly his final demo and Major Paul “Loco” Lopez would be there observing in his role as incoming F-22 demo pilot for the 2018 season and beyond.

Word on the tarmac is that Major “Loco” Lopez got his call sign because of his infectious enthusiasm for military aviation. When you meet him in person you see that is absolutely true. A big smile and a bigger handshake, Major Lopez initially seems too jovial to be a deadly Mach 2 predator stalking the skies for enemy aircraft and killing them with impunity from beyond visual range, but ask him about the technical performance of his F-22 Raptor and you get a sense of his seriousness about the aircraft and its mission. Major Lopez’s knowledge of the F-22, its capabilities and tactical role is encyclopedic. He discusses the aircraft as though he were one of the engineers who built it.

At Nellis I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to shake the hand of outgoing F-22 demo pilot, Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson, then turn to my left and immediately shake the hand of incoming pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez. It was living aviation history.

A moment in airshow history: outgoing F-22 demo pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson on the left, the author in the center, and incoming 2018 F-22 demo pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez on the right. (Photo: Jan Mack/TheAviationist)

New incoming demo pilot U.S. Air Force Major Paul Lopez, call sign “Loco”, completed his certification of capabilities as a demo team pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia on December 18, 2017. He flies his first public demo on March 17, 2018 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

Since the schedule at the 2018 Yuma Air Show next month does not include one of the major U.S. military demo teams, The Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds, Major Lopez’s solo demonstration flight of the F-22 along with his Heritage Flight formation with a North American P-51 Mustang of WWII fame, will be one of the headlining demos along with the civilian Patriot’s Jet Team and a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B demo.

According to an official public affairs release from the U.S. Air Force, Major Paul “Loco” Lopez’s 13-member F-22 Demo Team for 2018 will showcase the fifth-generation aircraft through 25 flight demonstrations, including solo displays and Heritage Flights, at 21 locations around the country, as well as international demos in Santiago, Chile and Alberta, Canada. If you get the opportunity to see Major Lopez’s flight demo or Heritage Flight at any of the scheduled shows, you’ll be witness to a chapter in aviation history as his first year flying F-22 demos begins in 2018.

Check Out This F-16C From Nellis Air Force Base’s Aggressor Squadron Wearing The Have Glass V Paint Scheme

To our knowledge, there are three new F-16Cs (including this one from the 64th AGRS) sporting the Have Glass V paint scheme.

The photos in this post (released by the Australian Department of Defence within a set of shots taken at Nellis Air Force Base where the Royal Australian Air Force has deployed with four EA-18G Growlers, one of those involved in a take off incident on Jan. 27) are particularly interesting as they show an F-16C at Nellis Air Force Base wearing a brand new Have Glass 5th generation paint scheme.

The aircraft, serial 86-0280, is an F-16C assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron, a jet previously painted with the Arctic and Desert color schemes. At this link you can find a shot of the aircraft in Arctic livery (but make sure to visit the rest of Bruce Smith’s Flickr gallery for other outstanding photographs of this as well as many other jets operating out of Nellis).

F-16C jets belonging to the 64th (and 18th) AGRS have been sporting different paint schemes for decades now. “Arctic”, “Blizzard“, “Splinter” and “Desert” are just a few of the “exotic” paint jobs used on the F-16s to make the Aggressor jets as similar as possible to the real threats and put the pilots in training against the Red Air in a similar situation to what they would see during an engagement with the opposing combat air forces. For this reason, such “themes” have become a distinguishing feature of U.S. Air Force Aggressors to make their fighter jets similar to a Russian 4th and 5th generation aircraft.

However, as the shots in this post seem to prove, even the Aggressors have started flying with F-16 painted with the Have Glass V: the “Have Glass 5th generation” is the evolution of the standard Have Glass program that saw all the F-16s receiving a two-tone grey color scheme made with a special radar-absorbing paint capable to reduce the aircraft Radar Cross Section. Indeed, all “Vipers” are covered with RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) made of microscopic metal grains that can degrade the radar signature of the aircraft. The Have Glass V is the latest version of the special paint.

An F-16C Aggressor from the United States Air Force prepares for another sortie from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. *** Local Caption *** The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a contingent of approximately 340 personnel to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for Exercise Red Flag 18-1, taking place from 29 January to 16 February 2018.
Established in 1980 by the United States Air Force, Exercise Red Flag centres on the world’s most complex reconstruction of a modern battlespace and is recognised as one of the world’s premier air combat exercises. The exercise involves participants from the United States Navy as well as the United Kingdom.
For 2018, an AP-3C Orion, E-7A Wedgetail and a Control and Reporting Centre have been deployed on the complex, multi-nation exercise. Four EA-18G Growler aircraft from Number 6 Squadron have also been deployed for the first time on an international exercise, since being transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force in January 2017.
Training alongside allied nations is critical to the success of Air Force units on real world operations; helping develop further familiarity with foreign terminology, methods and platforms.

We don’t know yet why the F-16C AF 86-0280 was given the somehow standard HG V paint scheme (is it going to be handed over to another Squadron or are the Aggressors going to fly a few aircraft in standard color scheme?), still the Viper in the dark grey Have Glass livery looks pretty cool.

Our reader and friend Stephan de Bruijn informed us that two more 64th AGRS birds were spotted on Nov. 29, 2017, with the HG V livery: 91-0374 and 90-0740. You can find two shots from Stephan in the comment thread. Actually it’s not clear whether these Vipers belong to the Aggressors too: in fact, according to some sources these F-16s, are assigned to the Weapons School. According to Dennis Peteri, both 90-0740 and 91-0374 left OT/422nd TES for WA/16th WPS sporting HG V. 64th AGRS only operate Block25/32 aircraft while 374 and 740 are Block 42s. So, at the moment, the AF 86-0280 should be the very first HG V of the 64th AGRS.

If you have further details let us know.

Image credit: CPL David Gibbs / © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence

H/T Gordon Bradbury for the heads-up