Located in the High Desert of North Nevada and a little over an hour’s drive from Reno, Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon is host to VFC-13 ‘Fighting Saints’, the Naval Strike and Warfare Center (NSAWC) and the infamous TOPGUN – the Navy Fighter Weapons School. As well as the host units, NAS Fallon will have numerous Carrier Air Wings (CAW) detached for air operations and pre-carrier deployment training throughout the year. In this article for AeroResource, Mark Forest looks at the many types based at NAS Fallon and the aircraft often seen visiting TOPGUN as well as those deployed for CAW training.
VFC-13 ‘Fighting Saints’
Flying Northrop F-5N/F Tiger IIs, the ‘Fighting Saints’ are used as aggressors flying in an adversary role against other United States Navy (USN), United States Airforce (USAF) and United States Marine Corps (USMC) aircraft. The brightly marked, non-standard camouflage schemes have been applied to the F-5s to represent foreign Eastern Block adversaries. This includes insignias and markings that are applied to represent both fourth- and fifth-generation fighters. Visiting units, as well as USN fleet squadrons, will fly multiple missions per day against VFC-13. Whilst the visitors fly their planned missions, the aggressors attack as an enemy would and the pilots train to react to this – a training mechanism known as Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT). Although now an ageing aircraft, this small and lightweight fighter is considered a formidable adversary threat against its opponents.
The role of the NSAWC is to provide the USN and USMC with state of the art naval aviation flight training, academic courses, tactics development, plus aircrew and air wing training for future deployments. An Air Wing will typically deploy to Fallon for a period of four weeks to learn realistic warfare tactics, DACT, Close Air Support (CAS) and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training both at day and night in the 10,200 square miles of the Fallon range airspace. The range itself has a multitude of electronic systems at its disposal including an advanced digital display with real time aerial movement imagery for mission debriefs and can also provide targets on the ground and surface-to-air threats. Alongside the electronic range, Fallon also hosts four bombing ranges and the longest runway in the USN at 14,000ft! The NSAWC, recently renamed to the Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) in late 2015, is known as the US Navy’s premier tactical air warfare training centre.
NSAWC is made up of the Navy Fighter Weapons School (which is more popularly known as TOPGUN!) and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning School which is often reffered to as TOPDOME. The Naval Strike Warfare Centre (also known as STRIKE U) has been based at NAS Fallon since 1984, with TOPGUN and TOPDOME’ relocating to the base from NAS Miramar in 1996. As of 2016, the NSAWC flies the F-16N Fighting Falcon, F/A-18C/D/E/F Hornet & Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, E-2C Hawkeye and MH-60S Seahawk.
Established in March of 1969 as the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN is known as one of the world’s leading pilot weapons school. During the 70s and 80s “Fighter Town USA” – or NAS Miramar in California – flew the A-4 Skyhawk, F-14A Tomcat and F-16N Fighting Falcon and, by the 90s it had added the F-5E/F Tiger II. In 1996 Miramar was handed over to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) of the USMC which saw the school move to NAS Fallon and join with the NSAWC. The Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) program provides already experienced F/A-18 pilots and Weapons Systems Officers (WSO) advanced tactical training in air-to-air, ground-to-air, threat training and enemy tactics. This nine-week long course runs four times annually and as each class graduate, they return to their operational squadron as qualified training officers.
Fallon Airpark & Gate guards
NAS Fallon has a wonderful collection of preserved USN jets and helicopters in its main Airpark close to the base’s main gate. As well as showcasing jets from the 60s onwards, it also has a number of Eastern Block fighters on display including the MiG-15, 17, 21, 23 and an ex-Moldovan MiG-29 Fulcrum. A recent addition to the Airpark is an EA-6B Prowler which arrived in late 2015 after the USN retired the type from active service during June of that year. Recently the RA-5C Vigilante – which wears an unusual camouflage scheme – has moved from the base Chapel to the main gate area and an S-3B Viking, which was used as a fire trainer stored in the middle of the airfield, has been repainted and moved to join the other types in the collection. In total Fallon has almost 30 aircraft beautifully preserved around its base.
As always, AeroResource would like to extend a special thanks to Zip Upham and his PAO team for hosting many wonderful visits over the years in all types of weather conditions.