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Highlights of the 2005 Nellis AFB "Aviation Nation" Airshow

The theme of this year's show was "Welcoming Home Our Vietnam Veterans" and an excellent collection of Vietnam aircraft was put together, better even than the similarly-theme Selfridge ANGB airshow earlier in the year.  Leading the way was a flight of iconic aircraft from the Vietnam conflict, the ubiquitous UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the "Huey".   Three Hueys thudded their way past the crowd line each day, including these two in close formation.

two UH-1 Iroquois helicopters in formation   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The iconic fixed wing aircraft of Vietnam was probably the F-4 Phantom II, which flew with the air force, navy and marines.   This particular aircraft is a QF-4 Phantom II drone used as a target for missile testing, nicely painted up by the air force in a South-East Asia color scheme.   The Collings Foundation operates an F-4D Phantom II in Vietnam colors, and I was fortunate enough to do an air-to-air photo shoot of the Collings F-4 earlier this year.

QF-4 Phantom II taxying

This OV-10 Bronco is far less well known than the Huey or the Phantom.   It was the first American aircraft specifically designed for the forward air controller and observation roles; prior to this time conversions of civilian aircraft like the O-1 Bird Dog and O-2 Skymaster were used in Vietnam.   The Bronco was far more capable than either the Bird Dog or Skymaster, with higher speed, better protection for the pilots and greater firepower like the machine guns you can see here sticking out of the sponsons under the fuselage.   It's very rare to see one at an airshow, so it was nice to see this aircraft registered just last year by the Cactus Air Force here in Nevada.

OV-10 observation plane   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Douglas Skyraider is a much more commonly seen aircraft on the airshow circuit, at least in its navy or marine incarnations.   The Skyraider first flew during world war two, but its heavy load capacity and long loiter time made it ideal for later conflicts, and it was used a great deal during the Vietnam war.   Here you see the one-man marine corps AD-4N version, and the seldom seen four-man A-1E used by the air force.

two A-1 Skyraiders in formation

This particular A-1E is one of the mostly nicely restored Skyraiders in operation, the simulated ordnance provides a lot of extra interest, especially during the type of simulated bombing combat mission which was provided at the show by Chris Rainey and the rest of his pyrotechnic crew.

A-1 Skyraider with smoke cloud   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Cessna aircraft corporation was responsible for the Bird Dog and Skymaster, but they also produced a few aircraft designed especially for the military, like this A-37 Dragonfly.   Developed from the T-37 Tweet trainer, the A-37 performed ground attack work using the six-barrelled GAU-2B mini-gun which you can see extending from the top of the nose.   Like the Skyraider, the Dragonfly can also carry an extraordinary load of munitions under its wings, which is part of the reason why it's still in service with several South American air forces.

A-37 Skyraider

You might think that this plane doesn't belong in a Vietnam war remembrance, but in fact this AC-47 gunship, commonly referred to as "Spooky" or "Puff the Magic Dragon", is very familiar to people who know about this conflict.   Basically a world war two vintage C-47 Skytrain transport armed with 3 miniguns, these gunships could pour an enormous amount of firepower onto ground targets, usually Viet Cong forces besieging a military base or village.

AC-47 'Spooky' gunship

Because of the theme of this year's show, the pre-Vietnam warbird lineup was emphasized less than in previous years, as was the simulated Reno Air Race which is held each year; nevertheless there was still plenty on offer for aerobatic fans and those interested in military aircraft from other eras.

AT-6 Texan

This B-25 Mitchell bomber was one of the world war two aircraft which flew on the day, together with the P-51 Mustangs "Six Shooter" and "Val Halla".

B-25 Mitchell

There was also plenty of entertainment for people who need their fix of modern military aircraft turning and burning, with spirited demonstrations like this one by an F-15 Eagle, as well as a display by its counterpart the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

F-15 Eagle taking off steeply   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Eagle put on a great display, including this knife-edge pass while in full afterburner.

F-15 Eagle doing a knife edge pass

The Eagle was very good, but the air force's latest air superiority fighter definitely stole this section of the show.   The F-22 Raptor flew at last year's Nellis airshow, but restricted its display to high flat passes and steep climbs far from the crowd area.   It seemed that the air force might be following the policy pioneered by the F-117 Nighthawk "stealth fighter" and B-2 Spirit "stealth bomber", only doing tame routines with these extremely expensive aircraft in order to reduce the risk of bad publicity in the event of an accident.

F-22 Raptor banking   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
F-22 Raptor climbing vertically   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Thankfully, this year's display at Nellis threw this type of caution to the wind with an excellent display of low takeoff passes, steep afterburner climbs and banked passes also with afterburner.

It's the type of performance which ardent aircraft fans hope will get better and better as this extraordinarily capable aircraft settles into regular service.

The airshow community can be thankful that the top brass also allowed the Raptor to participate in the air force's Heritage Flight program, pairing today's top of the line hardware with their equivalents from earlier times, like this world war two P-51 Mustang.

P-51 Mustang and F-22 Raptor in formation

Since this show had a Vietnam theme, it was extremely appropriate that fighters from three generations should be flown together.

F-4 Phantom, F-22 Raptor and P-51 Mustang 'Heritage Flight'

There was one other Vietnam era plane which flew at the show, a Russian designed MiG-17 "Fresco" as flown by the North Vietnamese air force.   It's great to see aircraft like this flying, though for purists like myself it's maybe not so good to see them plastered over with capitalist advertising!   Of course the great majority of the audience doesn't care about details like that, and the owner and pilot, Bill Reesman, does an excellent display, as you might expect from someone who flew 320 combat missions in Vietnam flying the F-100 Super Sabre.

'Red Bull' MiG-17 jet fighter

Chris Rounds also does a good display in his sponsored T-33 Shooting Star trainer, named The Red Knight after a Royal Canadian Air Force T-33 display aircraft which flew demonstrations for many years in the same colors.

'Red Knight' T-33

There were no Canadians flying at this show, but the USAF Thunderbirds display team is based at Nellis air force base and always does its end of the year homecoming performance at the show.   This year's show included a surprising number of overflights of the crowdline by solo pilots, but the crowd loved the demonstration of what these aircraft can do.

Thunderbirds taxying

A performance of another kind took place in the late afternoon light - the first ever display at an airshow by the Predator unmanned aerial combat vehicle, complete with pyrotechnics as the Predator did a simulated attack run using the inert hellfire missiles carried under its wings.   In real life the Predator was first used in this way in Afghanistan in 2001 and again in Yemen in 2002.   Nellis is one of the main centers for flying UCAVs, so it was very appropriate that there were several different models on static display.

Predator unmanned aerial combat vehicle   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Before and after the flying there was plenty of time to browse the huge static display of aircraft spread across the show grounds.   This year's display was up to the usual high standard, with highlights including this restored 1930s Dornier Do-24 flying boat complete with modern turbo-prop engines, the historic C-141 Starlifter "Hanoi Taxi" used to evacuate POWs from Hanoi at the end of America's involvement in that war, and an EP-3 AWACS plane.   There was a sad looking MiG-29 "Fulcrum" jet fighter near the entrance, sister ship to the pristine MiG-29 in the Threat Training Facility at Nellis; the folks from the TTF had a variety of hardware on display, including a scud missile.

Dornier Do-24 flying boat

As always, many of the most interesting aircraft stayed on static display and only flew when arriving and departing.   I wasn't there for the main arrival and departure days, but several aircraft did sneak out on Sunday after almost everyone had left, including this great looking Grumman Albatross flying boat, which made its exit as the last of the day's sunlight vanished.

Grumman Albatross flying boat
See the highlights of the Nellis AFB "Aviation Nation" Airshow in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
www.richard-seaman.com / Aircraft / Airshows / Nellis 2005 / Highlights