Part of the “Blogging In Formation” Series
When you ask the average pilot what their favorite destination is you might hear an answer answer involving pristine beaches, crystal waters, or maybe a great on-field restaurant. The problem with asking a fighter pilot this question is most of us haven’t been to airfields in those amazing settings. Instead, my favorite destination is a magical place in the desert where the ramp is covered with jets, the ground shakes constantly from the noise of lit afterburners, and lungs are always filled with the fumes of JP-8 (jet fuel) – I’m speaking, of course, of Nellis Air Force Base (KLSV) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nellis has been a common entry in the logbooks of fighter pilots around the world for decades. The USAF Weapons School is located at Nellis and is the source of tactical knowledge and purity for fighter pilots everywhere. When you come to Nellis, you’re not here to worry about performance reports, mandatory online trainings, or any of the other “qweep” associated with life in the military. Instead, you are here to focus on the flying and the tactics.
The base plays host to a number of large force exercises (LFEs), like Red Flag, every year. Here, pilots have the opportunity to train against the most proficient adversaries in the world – the Nellis Aggressors (64th and 65th Aggressor Squadrons). These exercises are designed to push pilots to their absolute limits and put them in situations even more difficult than what they might experience in combat. It’s not unheard of to have over 100 aircraft in the fight airspace at any given time. I can assure you, with that many jets in a small piece of sky, the fog and friction of war is well replicated.
But there’s more here than just tactics and exercises. As I mentioned, Nellis is a magical place for the fighter pilot – after all, it was here the legend of Jeremiah Weed was born. There is something in the air when you climb out of your jet and the ADVON (advanced echelon) team hands you a cold drink, welcoming you to the airfield. The ramp always seems to buzz with activity, and no matter the time of day or night, you hear the rumble of military jets arriving and departing. Fighter pilots from all over the world gather to participate in the largest air exercises on the planet. Some of the most exciting flying to be had is played out above the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) where these hundred-plus aircraft converge to wage war. When you see an operation of this magnitude, you can’t help but take pride in being part of the greatest air force in the world.
Sadly, like every dream, the allure of this fighter pilot haven is slowly fading. Gone are the days of the great Friday night push to the “Big House” (a.k.a. the O’Club) for the standard fighter pilot shenanigans. Several years ago, I remember being in the O’Club on one such night during Red Flag. A contingent of Australian fighter pilots were present, and as the drinks flowed and the band played, some shady bets were made. By the end of the night, the Aussies had swapped flight suits with some of the American pilots and everyone was talking in a British accent (the Brits weren’t even at Flag that year, making the situation that much more bizarre!) But like I said, the O’Club isn’t what it used to be. It’s now just called “The Club”, and you will find only a small group of dedicated flyers in there on what would otherwise be a hopping night.
Gone too, is the sign at the main gate welcoming you to “The Home of the Fighter Pilot”. The sign was taken down in 2011 to make UAV pilots feel more welcome on base. The last great bastion of fighter heritage is slowly crumbling away. But as the physical signs and emblems of fighter heritage are removed, the spirit of the fighter pilot lives on. Extra care is taken to rally the air-to-air players for a quiet debrief session after the pomp and circumstance of an LFE is played out, and the real “lessons learned” are extracted. The brotherhood then takes its business downtown where the standard fighter pilot antics are cautiously played out.
The fighter pilot is a strong breed, and our traditions will not be allowed to die. In some small way we will carry on the memories of bold fighter pilots of the past like Frank Luke, Robin Olds and John Boyd. The virtues of the American Airborne Warrior will continue to be passed from one generation of fighter pilots to another during visits to the base. The thousands of hours logged by fighter pilots in the skies over the NTTR will forever be etched in the memories of those of who flew them and recited to anyone who will listen. Tales have and will be told in squadron bars around the world of the amazing aerial feats performed, and the brushes with death that were had, while flying out of Nellis. No matter what the sign may or may not say, Nellis Air Force Base will always be The Home of the Fighter Pilot!
This post is part of the Blogging in Formation Series #blogformation, a monthly four day collaboration between eight aviation bloggers all discussing the same topic from their unique perspectives. Check out the other writers here:
Day 1 (Feb 1): Eric Auxier @ capnaux.blogspot.com and Ron Rapp @ rapp.org
Day 2 (Feb 2): Mark L. Berry @ markberry.com/blog and me at iFLYblog.com
Day 3 (Feb 3): Rob Burgon @ TallyOne.com and Andrew Hartely @ smartflighttraining.com
Day 4 (Feb 4): Karlene Petitt @ karlenepetitt.blogspot.com and Chip Shanle @ project7alpha.com