Aviation Nation - Nellis Open House '12

Photo Gallery

I must say, of all the air shows I've been to, this has got to be my all time favorite! Not only was it an action packed extravaganza, with warbirds, the Bone, Eagles, Vipers, and Raptor tearing up the sky - the weather conditions were just amazing for photographing them! As an unexpected treat, the Nellis jets put on a flare drop and afterburner display that was simply out of this world! Oh, I think there will never be another show that rivals this in pure awesomeness - but I can hope!!

Yes, I've taken me a very long break in posting pictures on my page. Sorry about the extended hiatus, and thanks for hanging in there. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I plan on adding more pictures soon. Hope you enjoy the show as much as I did!
Nikon D300 w/ Sigma 150-500mm OS lens, 18-105mm VR lens - Bernard Zee

Here's a teaser shot of what to expect! The F-15 dropping a whole bunch of flares while pulling hard inverted! I have never seen anything as spectacular before, or since! Hopefully, this is enough motivation to keep you scrolling down - past the admittedly too many pictures that I've included! :-)

One of the more unusual aircraft seen when first entering the base (after a short shuttle bus ride from the Speedway) is the RC-135 Rivet Joint. This aircraft is like a super-duper signal intelligence gathering platform able to gather, analyze, and share a wide range of EMF data.

Lots of cool static displays at the show, but this is a fun one for the kids - where they can dress up as a pilot and take some photos in the cockpit.

Recommend get there early to stake out a good spot, and leave enough time to wander the displays. The show gets very, very crowded quickly!.

Not a common sight here in the U.S., here's a British Army Lynx helicopter. Doesn't look it, but the Lynx is one of the most aerobatic helicopters out there! Would have to catch it flying a demo in the U.K. though...

Lots of wobbly mechanical bits required to run a helicopter, as seen on the Lynx tail rotor.

Another RAF aircraft there was the Merlin helicopter. This is a medium sized transport and general utility helicopter, also used in anti-submarine warfare.

The B-52 is (and has always been) one of the big sticks of American foreign policy. :-)

Walking around the ominous B-52, the shade from the big wings would usually provide welcome relief to many seeking escape from the sun.

Seeing the Phantom always puts a smile on my face.

The QF-4 looks perfect with the shark-mouth paint scheme!

The B-1B Lancer is affectionately known as the Bone. (B-one get it?) :-)

Resembling a sleek super-sized fighter more than anything else, the Bone is one LOUD airplane!

Rotary launcher inside the Bone. Dropping bombs and missiles have gotten to be quite high tech and complicated!

The Bone has a variable geometry wing, which sweeps open and back depending on how fast it's going.

The B-1B is definitely a crowd favorite, and mine too!

Face shot of the B-52 and B-1 bombers.

That's one intimidating looking brute of a plane!

A C-130 transport taxiing in preparation the parachute jump demonstration.

MH-60T Jayhawk from USCG, CGAS San Diego.

International MaxxPro Category 1 MRAP - Mine-Resistant Utility Vehicle. Developed in response to the unpredictable IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper. Able to carry a world of hurt for a long time, unmanned and controlled remotely.

A Nellis HH-60 Pave Hawk on static display.

Youngster checking out the totally awesome minigun - which, really doesn't seem all that 'mini'!

Well, that is - unless the comparison is to the GAU-8 Avenger... the volkswagon sized 30mm depleted uranium spitting gun of the A-10 Warthog!

Here are some of the type of missiles and bombs that can be carried by the F-22.

Pretty much the world's first and only combat operational 5th generation fighter aircraft! The awe inspiring F-22 Raptor.

With an unmatched combat record, the F-15 Eagle still plays an important role in securing the airspace.

The F-16 Viper (technically the Fighting Falcon) continues to serve as a front line fighter for the U.S. as well as many other allied nations.

At Nellis, the Viper also flies in Aggressor colors. Aggressor squadrons act as the opposing force, using enemy tactics and procedures to provide realistic training for visiting squadrons.

Texas Air Guard C-130 in a low pass - note the Lone Star State flag.

Actually these first few flying shots were from practice, a day before the show. Waited outside the base hoping to get some unique angles. Here's the B-1B pulling up sharply on take-off.

What a beauty!

Caught a few planes coming and going, just enough to whet the appetite...

Always a treat to see the Bone flying though!

The Sniper XR targeting pod can be seen hanging below the front of the B-1.

A pair of F-15s about to break for their landing.

A preview of the Raptor's show

A few of the T-birds

Nice to be able to able to line up a bit better with their passes for that head-on style shot.

The Thunderbirds Air Force flight demonstration team flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and calls Nellis AFB home.

The Nellis Open House event is the last show of the season for the Thunderbirds, and is like a homecoming for them.

As a very special bonus, the Horsemen flew 3 F-86 Sabres in a dazzling display of precision formation aerobatic flying at the show. I don't think they've repeated it since!

Also showcased was Greg 'Wired' Colyer and his T-33 Shooting Star.

F-22 Raptors in Vegas Baby!

Stealthy, fast, and maneuverable - the F-22's greatest asset may instead be the situation awareness it provides from its sensor fusion and data sharing.

While the Vegas Strip seems tantalizingly close, it's actually quite far away. Just tricks of a big zoom!

The 820th RED HORSE parachute jump demonstration, free-falling out the C-130.

Performing some cool formation skydiving!

P-51 Mustang taking off, start of the Korean re-enactment (I think).

T-33 Acemaker on takeoff.

Different view of the Mustang.

Acemaker retracting its landing gear.

Clean looking yellow SNJ (Also known as AT-6, depending on which service flies it).

Nice aggressive front view of the P-51 on a high speed pass.

Nice tight shot of the Mustang.

Acemaker with Sunrise mountain background.

Yak-3 zipping by.

Mustang and Bearcat in close formation.


The Soviets loved the Yak-3 during WWII.

Maybe because they didn't get any Mustangs! :-)

T-33 on a gear-down pass.

Smoke on!

The F8F Bearcat was developed late in WWII, but didn't see any action till the Korean war.

Bearcat lined up with some pyro explosions.

SNJ pilot waving to the crowd.

Greg in his T-33 'Acemaker' after landing.

The Desert Rats take off in their Nanchang CJ-6s.

CJ-6 trainers in a smoky formation.

Clay Lacy in his Lear Jet.

Puts on a nice show with lots of smoke!

C-130 on takeoff

The Horsemen in formation takeoff

In their beautiful F-86 Sabres.

F-15E Strike Eagle pilot and WSO strike a pose!

F-16 in Aggressor colors rolling by.

Steve Hinton, Dan Friedkin, and Ed Shipley are the Horsemen pilots in the 3 F-86 Sabre jets.

It's a very rare sight nowadays to see a F-86 flying, much less 3 of them in formation!

So excuse me for indulging in a few more F-86 over Vegas pics!

The Horsemen team fly so many different combination of war birds that it may be a LONG while before we see anything like this again!

The F-86 was of course best known for its role in the Korean War, where it fought for control of the skies against Mig-15s - (mostly) crewed by Soviet pilots.

Oh yeah, they did some loops too!

Pretty photo pass.

The F-86 was one of the first U.S. planes designed with a swept wing - which improves performance at high subsonic and supersonic speeds.

Break for landing.

One more high speed pass!

Can't resist adding this classic view.

The 6 .50 cal machine guns can be seen near the nose.

Strike Eagles take off

Followed by Vipers

and A-10 Warthogs

F-16 Aggressor taking off.

The mighty B-1B takes to the sky! It's so big, and LOUD!

It just commands attention, especially with the 4 big General Electric F101 engines on afterburner!

Perhaps one of my favorite shots of all time! B1-B pouring on the power, pulling up into dramatic skies!! Cannot ask for a better scene!

The wings are swept forward in this shot, as the Bone banks to the right.

Some more F-16 take offs.

Feel the heat!

Really awesome flying from the Bone.

Wow, what a display!!

High Speed pass with burners

BOOM!! Massive pyrotechnics display.

Really aggressive looking plane - sleek and fast!

Showing a little bit of 'wrinkled' aluminum skin!

Uh-oh, looks like the base is under attack!

Scramble the fighters!

F-15Cs leap into the air

F-16 Aggressor on afterburner.

A-10 looks like he's up above the clouds - but it's an optical illusion. I'm firmly stuck on the ground when I took the shot.

A fully loaded F-16 flies by on afterburner. Look at all that stuff he has hanging under the wings!

It's a real treat for Nellis to demonstrate their planes in a combat load-out, instead of flying them clean.

F-16 dropping flares on the approach.

The Aggressor F-16s are pounding the airfield.

Dropping flares on the approach, and again when they depart!

The F-15Cs are scrambled to intercept

A nice shot of a pair of F-15s with Afterburners lit taking off.

Aggressor F-16

Popping a bunch of flares as the F-15 pulls up.

F-16 dropping flares in a tight turn.

Another shot I was just thrilled to catch! Smoke from the flares can be seen swirling from the jet wash of the F-15.

Dispensing flares while inverted!


It was an unbelievable flare-fest, and the lighting could not be any better - with darkened skies to highlight the flare, smoke, and afterburners!

Press and hold that flare dispenser button!

Close up of the F-15 just as it drops a flare.

'Drop and roll!'

I think the jumper represented a downed airman needing rescue. Maybe. It's been a while! :-)

Out the door!

HH-60 Pave Hawk Combat Search and Rescue demonstration.

Showing some nice colors in afterburner.

F-16C in an Air to Ground demo.

The big bomber landing.

The Pave Hawk after picking up the 'downed' airman.

Eagles overhead.

Falcons overhead.

An F-15 holding a wheelie after touching down.

F-15s and F-16s in formation preparing to land.

Eagles with downtown Vegas in the background.

Another angle on the F-15s.

Meanwhile, the Raptor demo pilot is getting ready for flight.

Preflight checks

Look at that sky! I believe they call that Virga - a dry Thunderstorm!

Raptor taking off.

Puling a minimum radius turn with Sunrise mountain in the back.

Opening the doors to the weapons bay.

By storing the weapons internally, the F-22 flies in a clean configuration - preserving its stealth, speed, and maneuverability.

The crowd loves it!

The Raptor looks fantastic banked over, coming head on, with those afterburners lit!

The loudness of the Raptor is rivaled only by the much larger B-1!

After flying a tight solo demo, the F-22 Raptor joins up with a pair of F-86s, and a P-51 for the Heritage Flight.

But it does show just how far aviation has come in such a very short time. From the propeller driven P-51 to the computerized, jet powered, stealthy F-22 in sixty or so years.

It's challenging to fly these dissimilar planes in formation, as the P-51 is pushing it, while the jets are going as slow as they can...

Formation break. You may notice that the skies are grey in some shots, and blue in others...I'm just merging shots from different days. :-)

Mustang back on the ground.

F-86s on the ground

That's Steve Hinton in the F-86.

Triumphant arms in the air after a spectacular show!

That Virga really is pretty interesting phenomenon. I was glad I didn't get wet!

The main and final event was of course, the Air Force Thunderbirds!

Home based at Nellis, the Aviation Nation Air Show is considered somewhat like a homecoming for the demonstration team.

Crowds were thick there both days of the show!

The show at Nellis is also the last one of the year, so it's pretty special.


Huge logistic feat to handle the tremendous influx of spectators, most of which had to be shuttled from the Speedway parking lot to the base, and back

The solos take off separately.

Crossing shots are kind-of hit or miss for me (mostly miss), but I must say I got real lucky for this one!

Looks like someone's prepared for the noise of freedom!

Calypso pass

You can almost feel the power from the afterburners!

Pulling a bit of vapor with the clouds.

Another opposing pass (but not as nice as the first one, because the focus is on the back plane).

Notice the number 5 is painted upside down... In tribute to the lead solo spending much of the time inverted!

Another bit of optical illusion, they do seem to be very close together when they do the cross over break!

The Trail to Diamond Roll is the prelude to...


My personal favorite, and the thing I most look forward to every single time!!!You'd better be looking out for it, or it'll take you by surprise!

It is low, fast, and LOUD! A guaranteed crowd pleaser! Except for the occasional crying baby... :-)

Followed immediately by - the slow pass (actually, the high alpha pass).

The minimum radius turn is pretty spectacular with those mountains as a backdrop!

So Nice!

A short while later, another surprise as the lead and opposing solo rockets overhead from behind, with their afterburners lit. This one never fails to catch me unprepared!

The planes join up in a 6 ship formation for part of the show.

Looping in formation.

Lighting was pretty dramatic that day!

"Home to the Thunderbirds"!

Always a thrill to see the Thunderbirds, and no better place to experience them than at Nellis!

Really unusual lighting conditions that day! Makes for some striking images.

A really excellent show, as always!

Lined up, back on the ground - Vegas style!

Major Nick Holmes, hanging loose!

The marshaller gives the stop signal. I wonder if he ever worries that he might get speared by the pointy end of the F-16! :-)

Major Caroline Jensen flew in the right wing #3 position. She was the 3rd female Thunderbird pilot.

This is the 2012 USAF Thunderbird demonstration team!

After the show, excited friends and family rushed to greet them.

Pretty cool!

Great family portrait.

The Thunderbirds were of course, happy to meet and greet their many fans for pictures and autographs afterwards!

Even though the flying's done, the grunt work isn't!

End of the day, time to put the toys away.

Logo of the 757th AMXS Thunder, on the A-10.

Aggressor F-16, with provocative logo.

A-4K Skyhawk on display, is I believe operated by Draken International - a private company contracted by the military to provide threat simulation and airborne adversary training.

You know it's the end of the show when the C-5 Galaxy's cargo bay is free of visitors!

E-3 Sentry AWACS is fairly unmistakable with its huge radar dome on top.

The GAU-8 Avenger on the A-10, shown with the ground support ammunition loader behind it.

TV guided AGM-65 Maverick missile - one of the most produced precision guided missiles.

Lots and lots of bombs under the F-15E Strike Eagle.

Looking a bit like a UFO, the F-22 Raptor's smooth surfaces help it keep it stealth to radar.

And...just because B-1's are so awesome, I had to include another series of it before closing out the presentation. Classic Bone at Nellis shot.

Plane is from Dyess AFB, close by Abilene, TX.

In the U.S., B1s are either based with the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess, or the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota.

An overly tight shot due to too much zoom!

It can go slow as well!

Sorry for the B-one overdose! So many cool shots, just had to share 'em... heh. Note how sleek the B-1 is compared to the airliner flying high overhead.

Slowly making my way to the super long bus lines, here are a few last static shots. Mig-15 from the Korean era.

Another view of the A-4 with a L-39 behind it.

There were some unusual displays of Soviet military hardware there as well, like this SA-8 Gecko Ground to Air missile system.


KC-10 Extender, in the beautiful warm glow of the setting sun.

Same plane, in brighter light.

The refueling boom is positioned by the boom operator looking out the back of the KC-10.

Took me a while to identify this plane - which is a Boeing E-6 Mercury. An airborne command post and communications relay platform based on the 707-320. Doesn't look like much, but it performs the 'looking glass' role, taking over control of U.S. nuclear forces in the event ground control becomes disabled!

C-5 Galaxy with its maw wide open. Like a basking shark feeding!

Closing up shop for the day.

Last twilight series of the tactical planes. Here's the super tough A-10 Warthog.

F-15E Strike Eagle.

The Strike Eagle 'fighter' can carry a far greater bomb load than a B-17 heavy bomber from WWII!

The F-15E can carry quite a dizzying number of different types of bombs and missiles.

The F-16 is no slouch either, and can carry about 2/3 the weapons load of the far bigger F-15E.

End of the show is always bitter sweet. Such an exciting and wonderful 2 days of almost non-stop flying and display of overwhelming air power! Though I didn't know it at the time, this was to be the pinnacle of Nellis shows for the next few years. Due to sequestration, the Nellis airshow (along with all other military air shows) was cancelled the following year (2013). Nellis made a comeback the next year, and held an open house event in 2014. But the number of performers and scale of the displays seemed noticeably smaller. For 2015, sadly no show again for a variety of reasons.
Like I said, this was an peerless event, and may well be the very BEST airshow I'll ever have the privilege to witness! With such amazing lighting and atmospheric conditions combined with exciting flying of historically important as well as cutting edge aircraft, I feel so fortunate to have witnessed it and been able to record a small part of it with my photography.
Once again, I'll admit there are probably way too many pictures here - and I could brutally edit out another 80%, but I'm no good with words, and must rely on pictures to get the point across! :-)
Hopefully, you've viewed this while on a nice fast broadband connection. If not, sorry about that!

Best Regards,
Bernard Zee