Tag Archives: Nellis Air Force Base

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

Australian EA-18G Growler Jet Damaged in Incident at Nellis Air Force Base

Aircraft Photographed with Smoke from End of Runway. Crew Reported as Uninjured.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft is being reported as damaged in an incident that occurred at 10:45 AM local time on Jan. 27 at Nellis AFB, outside Las Vegas, Nevada, according to a statement issued by Nellis AFB and quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The aircraft, one of a contingent of four Australian EF-18G Growlers at Nellis AFB for the Red Flag 18-1 air combat exercise, is part of the 340-person contingent of the Royal Australian Air Force participating in this year’s first Red Flag Exercise.

Red Flag is a large-scale, highly realistic air combat exercise originating from Nellis AFB and taking place over the large air combat training ranges that surround the area.

Early reports in both Australian and U.S. media say the aircraft is from the RAAF No. 6 Squadron who are participating in Red Flag now. There are also reports that the Australian EF-18Gs are “operating alongside US Navy EA-18Gs” at Nellis as indicated in a January 2018 article on Combat Aircraft magazine’s website.

Australian journalist Elena McIntyre of Ten News Sydney reported in a tweet that an “RAAF Growler apparently experienced a critical engine failure during takeoff at Nellis AFB, before skidding off the runway. Pilot and ground crew are safe.”

According to an article in Australia’s Air Force magazine, the first RAAF EA-18G Growler instructor pilot began flying the electronic warfare aircraft in the U.S. at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the United States in November 2013. Production of the first of 12 RAAF EA-18G Growlers began in 2015. Before that, RAAF flight crews trained on the U.S. EA-18Gs with the U.S. Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron 129, “The Vikings”, permanently stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, in Washington state.

Photos from the accident that appeared on Twitter show the aircraft sitting upright, intact, with the canopy open and the leading-edge slats and arrestor hook down. There appears to be discoloration on the left vertical stabilizer from dark smoke also seen in photos that appeared on Twitter.

RAAF photos distributed prior to the incident show the four aircraft at Nellis AFB, with one of them painted in a special color scheme with a bright blue and yellow tail and upper fuselage. Based on the photos shown on Twitter the aircraft involved in the incident appears to be one of the other three aircraft without the special color scheme.

EA-18G Growlers from Number 6 Squadron arrive at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for Exercise Red Flag 18-1. *** 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.

The RAAF received their first EA-18G Growlers in 2017. The aircraft are to be operated from the Australian RAAF Base Amberley about 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Brisbane.

So far there has been no official report about the status of the Red Flag 18-1 flight operations following the incident, even though no much disruption is expected.

America’s Secret Airline To Area 51 Is Now Hiring Flight Attendants

JANET airlines, flying non-stop to Area 51, Tonopah Test Range and other “sensitive locations” is hiring.

Janet (that unofficially stands for “Just Another Non Existent Terminal”), is the name of a small fleet of passenger aircraft operated by AECOM, a private defense contractor, from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.

Actually, the name and callsign Janet com from the wife of the Area 51 base commander circa 1969-1971.

Every day, Boeing 737-600 jets, sporting the peculiar overall white with red cheatline livery, fly non-stop to several key military airbases used for R&D (Research And Development), including the famous Area 51, in the Nevada desert, the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale CA and Tonopah Test Range, Nevada.

The secretive airline, allowed to fly where most of the military and civilian aircraft are not allowed to, has recently posted a job for a Flight Attendand to be based at Las Vegas.

The job does not require any previous experience requirement and the  most interesting part of the job is the one we highlight in the following chunk of the original summary:

High School graduate or equivalent. Must pass Company operated jet aircraft Emergency Training and Initial Flight Attendant Training and maintain currency as a Flight Attendant. Must be able to effectively perform all assigned physical duties without difficulty and without assistance. Must be able to push and pull heavy hinged aircraft doors weighing up to 80 lbs. Must comply with Company specified dress code and uniform guidelines. Must possess effective oral communication skills, including good public speaking abilities. Possess basic math knowledge and basic computer skills. Must qualify for and maintain a top secret government security clearance and associated work location access. Possess a current State issued driver’s license.

So, if you are thrilled to work for America’s most secret airline on extremely rare routes and destinations, here’s your chance.

By the way, as often highlighted in the past, in spite of the “clandestine” nature of its operation JANET flights (that, use “Janet” as radio callsign) can be tracked online on Flightradar24.com. Here’s just an example:

Image credit: Wiki/Alan Wilson

We Got A Close Look At America’s Iconic U-2 Dragon Lady Spy Plane

It Wasn’t on the Schedule, but a Late Tip at Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo Gave Us Unique Insights into The Historic U-2.

The fine print in every air show schedule reads, “Aircraft appearances are subject to change”.

It’s a reminder that the primary mission of military aircraft is not display, but operational readiness. Sometimes that means an aircraft scheduled to appear at a flight demonstration or static display gets cancelled because of higher priorities.

But sometimes it also means one gets added.

That was the case at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis Air Force Base. A Saturday flyover of a B-2 Spirit strategic bomber was moved off the schedule when the scarce, national security asset was assigned to a higher priority mission. With only about twelve of the B-2 Spirit fleet in operational status and the looming North Korean crisis many aviation enthusiasts thought we would lose the flyover to higher tasking. What we didn’t know was that the good folk at Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo would replace it with something even better.

It pays to keep your eyes open at an airshow, and especially at Aviation Nation. Nellis is a hub of training activity in one of the busiest military aircraft training regions in the world. If you’re a keen observer, you may spot an unusual flight suit patch, a different name tag, or something else extraordinary. There is so much going on at Nellis it can be tricky to pay attention to everything at once. It’s like looking for the best candy in the world’s largest candy shop. But on the Friday Veteran and Military Appreciation Day and Working Media Day, our helpful media escort, Mr. Mike Young, a retired Public Affairs Officer in the Air Force, found us a rare gem. Mr. Young was working with the Nellis 99th Air Base Wing/Public Affairs Office at Nellis. His unenviable job was to follow me around all day to make sure I didn’t stray off anywhere I wasn’t supposed to, photograph anything off limits, or touch any switches in cockpits that ought to not be touched.

As our media escort ushered us through the many static displays and aircrew introductions I spotted an unusual patch on an officer’s flight suit. The patch read, “Dragon Lady 1000, Solum Volamus.” And in case that didn’t raise an eyebrow, it said quite plainly across the top: “Lockheed U-2”.

We had just stumbled upon one of the rarest aircraft pilots in aviation history, a Lockheed U-2 spy plane pilot.

I often feel for pilots at airshows, especially when a gawky fanboy reporter like me is fawning over them, asking, “Can I take a photo with you Sir?” But they always do, and with a smile. This was no exception.

With accommodating enthusiasm, the U-2 pilot I spotted in the crowd confirmed he did indeed fly the Dragon Lady, one of the most difficult planes to fly in one of the most dangerous roles in any air force. He went on to leave us with another gem, “It will be arriving here today at 4:30 PM, right after the Thunderbirds practice is over.”


Few people have ever seen a U-2 high altitude reconnaissance plane up close. First flown in 1955, only 104 were built. The U.S. continues to use about forty U-2s in their intended surveillance role. Interestingly, Taiwan operated a few of the aircraft at one time, but they have been, and continue to be mostly employed by the U.S. Air Force and NASA. The Central Intelligence Agency also operated the U-2 in the intelligence gathering role.

While every aspect of the U-2, its mission, operation and performance are remarkable, certainly the most remarkable chapter in the U-2’s history is the Francis Gary Powers incident.

On May 1, 1960, Operation Grand Slam, managed by the C.I.A., was initiated. A U-2 spy plane flown by Capt. Francis Gary Powers overflew the Soviet Union to obtain photos of ICBM bases and a plutonium manufacturing facility. The Soviets knew the American U-2 was coming, and put all their air defense units on alert. After repeated unsuccessful attempts to intercept the U-2 spy plane along its route using fighter aircraft, none of which could reach it because of its extreme high altitude, a salvo of three SA-2 Guideline surface to air missiles (SAMs) was able to shoot down Capt. Powers’ U-2. The missile salvo also accidentally shot down a Soviet MiG-19 aircraft chasing Powers’ U-2. Although Capt. Powers was able to eject and survive the shoot-down, the Soviet pilot trying to intercept him, Senior Lieutenant Sergei Ivanovich Safronov of the 764th Fighter Aviation Regiment, Soviet Air Defense Force at Bolshoye Savino Airport, died in the tragic fratricide incident.

If people hadn’t known about the most secret spy plane in the U.S. arsenal before the Gary Powers incident, that soon changed when the Soviets paraded the captured Capt. Powers in front of newsreel cameras and displayed the wreckage of his U-2 spy plane. Overnight the U-2 went from national security secret to the most famous airplane in the world at the time.

Since then the U-2 and its related versions such as the TR-2 have gone on to perform the strategic and tactical reconnaissance mission around the world. The aircraft has also been flown to collect high altitude weather data.

Everything about operating the U-2 is remarkable. Its pilots, among the most skilled in any air force, wear an ultra-high altitude pressure suit that is effectively a spacesuit, including the large bubble-like helmet. Pilots must pre-breath pure oxygen for an extended time prior to their high-altitude surveillance missions, the time varying depending on the duration of their mission. Long missions can last a staggering 10+ hours. The pilots also wear radiological dosimeters to record the amount of solar radiation they are exposed since they fly at the outer limits of the atmosphere and are exposed to higher levels of harmful radiation from the sun. During periods of elevated sunspot activity, the pilots do not fly high altitude missions. Pilots eat pureed paste-like food through a tube during long missions. If a pilot has to urinate during a mission, they do so into a flexible bladder sewn into the suit. If they have to defecate, something avoided through careful management of diet in the days prior to a long-range, high-altitude flight, the suit is no longer useable. Once the helmet is donned and the pilot is ready to fly, they can’t even scratch an itch on their face.

I got a privileged opportunity to sit in the operational U-2 flown into Nellis AFB by two of the officers who fly her. For security reasons, they asked that their real names not be used.

While every corner of the flight envelope is tricky to fly in the U-2, managing the landing is particularly difficult. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

The first thing that occurred to me climbing inside the aircraft is how small it is. I was wearing summer street clothes. In a high-altitude pressure suit I have no idea how someone could wedge themselves into the compact space.

Flight controls and instrumentation in the U-2 I sat in seemed antiquated compared to more modern aircraft like the F-22 and F-35. Recall that the first U-2, designed by the famous Kelly Johnson of the Lockheed Skunkworks, was flown in 1955, so these are all old aircraft.

All U-2 aircraft go through what is effectively a re-building process called Programmed Depot Maintenance every 4,800 flight hours or every seven years. The aircraft are almost completely disassembled, inspected and necessary components are repaired or replaced. About six of the aircraft are cycled through the extended maintenance procedure per year. This fascinating video shows the process:

Pilots who fly the U-2 are restricted from discussing aircraft performance and mission specifics for security reasons. However, the pilot who briefed me on flight control procedures when operating at the classified operational altitudes showed me how the autopilot controls are used to maintain the aircraft within its very narrow speed and attitude band. Fly too fast and the aircraft is possibly damaged, likely resulting in a crash, fly too slow in the thin air of the outer atmosphere and the aircraft stalls and tumbles out of the sky, hopefully regaining control if it doesn’t disintegrate before it reaches lower, thicker air below 60,000 ft. The difference between max airspeed, the VH airspeed, and VMU airspeed, or minimum unstick airspeed can be incredibly narrow, a band of less than 20 MPH. When you factor in wind speed, vertical acceleration from turbulence and other variables, you quickly begin to understand that a U-2 pilot will be extremely busy during a high-altitude mission just trying to keep the aircraft in the air.

The U-2 on static display at Aviation Nation along with its chase car.

With the tip from the U-2 pilot we met on Friday we also got to see the U-2 arrival and landing, including the unusual procedure of having a fast car driven by another qualified U-2 pilot chase the aircraft down the runway on final approach giving the pilot minor corrections on attitude and line-up. Once the aircraft touches down on the runway the pilot attempts to hold what is ostensibly the world’s largest unicycle on its center main landing gear. As the aircraft slows during roll-out the pilot tries to hold the wingtips off the runway until the final moment. Once they stop on the landing roll, small “pogo” wheels are installed under each wing to keep the wingtips off the pavement and allow the plane to taxi.

A close look at the U-2’s enormous flaps and unusual pogo wheel parking system.

Seeing a U-2 in person was a rare treat in aviation history.

On both Saturday and Sunday, everyone attending the airshow got a chance to see the “Dragon Lady”. This incredibly rare and exotic opportunity is just one of the many things that make the Nellis AFB Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo one of the finest air shows anywhere in the world.

TheAviationist.com would like to thank U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Marie Ortiz, Chief of Media Operations at the 99th ABW/Public Affairs and Mr. Mike Young, USAF (retired), along with the entire Public Affairs Team at Nellis AFB for their generous assistance in covering not only the arrival of the U-2, but all of the events at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo.