In 1929, the area that became Nellis AFB was just a dirt runway for Western Air Express Airlines. In January 1941, Las Vegas took over the airfield. Three days later, Mayor John L. Russell signed over much of the property to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps to develop the flexible gunnery school. The new Las Vegas Army Air Corps Gunnery School’s (located on the new Las Vegas Army Air Field) mission was defined as “training of aerial gunners to the degree of proficiency that will qualify them for combat duty”.

During Nellis AFB’s first few months, there were no services or facilities at the new base. Enlisted men were quartered in the Work Project Administration barracks in town. Construction of permanent base facilities began in mid-1941 for a barracks to house 3,000 people. By December, there were 10 AT-6 “Texan” trainers and 17 B-10 “Martin” bombers. From this humble beginning, LVAAF grew rapidly.

The first B-17s arrived in 1942, giving students their first chance to train in the gun turret of an actual combat plane and providing aircraft to train co-pilots in ground and transition school. At the height of World War II, 600 gunnery students and 215 co-pilots graduated from LVAAF every five weeks, and more than 45,000 B-17 gunners were trained.

In March 1945, the base converted from B-17s to the B-29 Gunnery School and the population peaked with nearly 11,000 officers and enlisted people logged on the unit’s morning reports. Of these, more than 4,700 were students.

On Jan. 31, 1947, the base was closed down for a short time. On March 31, 1948, the base was reactivated as Las Vegas Air Force Base and hosted a pilot training wing and gunnery school — the 332 Fighter Group flying the F-47 won the first Gunnery Meet in May 1949. With the onset of the Korean War, the mission of LVAFB changed from an advanced single-engine school to training jet fighter pilots for the then Far East Air Forces.

In 1958 the base transferred from Air Training Command to Tactical Air Command, the bases mission transitioned from initial aircraft qualification and gunnery training to advanced, graduate-level weapons training.

In 1966 the USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Centre was activated and in 1975, Red Flag air-to-air exercises started.  Then in 1990, the Air Warrior (Green Flag), air-to-ground training mission moved to Nellis AFB.

Units at Nellis continue to provide training for composite strike forces that include every type of aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, along with air and ground units of the Army, Navy, Marines and air units from allied nations. Nellis is also responsible for operational tests, evaluations, and tactics development.

The 57th Wing is the operational element of the centre. The major units are the 57th Operations Group, 57th Maintenance Group, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron (The Thunderbirds), U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Air Ground Operations School, the Warrior Prep School, 414th Combat Training Squadron (Red Flag), 547th Intelligence Squadron and the 549th Combat Training Squadron (Green Flag).

Other USAFWC units at Nellis AFB are the 99th Air Base Wing and 98th Range Wing, along with the 53d Test & Evaluation Group (53d Wing, Eglin AFB, FL.) and 505th Operations Group (505th Command & Control Wing, Hurlburt Field, FL).

The 98th Range Wing is responsible for the Nevada Test and Training Range(NTTR), accountable for developing, maintaining, and operating facilities on the NTTR. The 99 ABW has three groups; The 99th Mission Support Group provides a wide array of services including transportation, supply, services, contracting, civil engineering, mission support and communications for both Nellis AFB and Creech AFB. The 99th Medical Group provides a growing range of medical services to the base. The 99th Security Forces Group provides base security and, through the ACC’s Desert Warfare Training Centre at Creech AFB, training for SF defenders deploying to combat zones.

Aircraft currently assigned to the 57th Wing are:

  • The world renowned USAF Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” flying their high-speed F-16C/D fighter aircraft, the team joined the 57th Wing in 1974 and currently tour around the world representing the US Air Force.

  • 57th Adversary Tactics Group (ATG) were formed in 2005 to combine ‘The Aggressors’ providing pilots with realistic combat air training scenarios, wearing the tail code “WA” the 57th ATG currently consists of two airborne squadrons; the 64th AGRS operating F-16C/D variants and the 65th AGRS operating the F-15C/D.

  • Nellis AFB the headquarters of the USAF Weapons School, also wearing tail code “WA” the WPS operates from 7 locations with a variety of aircraft, providing advanced weapons and tactics training. Squadrons presently stationed at Nellis are:

    8th WPS – EC-130H/RC-135/E-3/E-8
    16th WPS – F-16C/D
    17th WPS – F-15E
    26th WPS – MQ-1/MQ-9
    34th WPS – HH-60G/U
    66th WPS – A-10C
    433rd WPS – F-15C/D

    The WPS further operates C-130, C-17, B-1, B-2, B-52 and KC-135 aircraft from its remote locations.

  • Reporting directly to the Air Combat Command the 53rd Wing Test and Evaluation Group provide comprehensive operational tests of future technology as well as modification and certification before new equipment is implemented, the wing’s aircraft carry the “OT” tail code with Nellis’ 422nd TES/53rd TEG operating A-10C, F-15C/D/E, F-16C/D and F-22A aircraft.

Red Flag

Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise which involves pilots from the United States, NATO and other allied countries. The exercise is hosted north of Las Vegas over the Nevada Test and Training Range. This is the United States Air Force (USAF) premier military training area with more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land. With 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world it is the home of the ‘peacetime battlefield’. The purpose of Red Flag is to refine the pilot’s skills in real time air to air combat situations and is normally held four times a year.

Two forces consisting of between 70-100 aircraft fly at least two sorties every day and night over a two week period. Blue force is always the “good guys” and Red force is the “bad guys”. The “Reds” are pilots based at Nellis AFB; they fly the specially painted and very colourful F-15 and F-16 “Aggressor” aircraft.

The Blue forces position east over the ranges and the Red force position to the west of the ranges. The Blue force mission is to destroy targets in the ranges and return home safe. The mission of the “Reds” is simple – destroy the Blue forces before they reach their target and complete the mission.

The air to air combat and battle scenarios are overseen and controlled by an “Air Boss” who flys above the battle in a Boeing E-3 AWACS aircraft. All aircraft are monitored aboard the AWACS by real time telemetry on computers which show how the battle is unfolding.

If Blue force aircraft is engaged and hit, it leaves the air battle and returns to base – if a Red force aircraft is knocked out it is allowed to regenerate and re-join the battle.

Once all the forces have returned to base the mission data is then collated and presented back to all the aircrew at a large debrief by the “Air Boss”.

Red Flag 2012/2

Red Flag 2012/2 commenced 23rd January and ended 3rd February and hosted aircraft from all the units below.

B-1Bs 28th BW Ellsworth, AFB South Dakota
E-3B/C 552nd ACW Tinker AFB, Oklahoma
KC-135R 6th AMW Macdill AFB, Florida
F-15C/D 104th FW Westfield-Barnes A/P, Massachusetts
F-15C/D 159th FW JB New Orleans, Louisiana
F-15K 11FW/110FS Republic of Korea  (delivered to exercise straight from the factory)
F-15S 92Sqn Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
F-15C/D 57th ATG Nellis  AFB Nevada
F-16C/D 57th ATG Nellis  AFB Nevada
F-16CM/DM 388th FW Utah
F-16CM/DM 416 FLTS Edwards AFB California

A big thank you to all the PAO/media team on Nellis for a well organised media day, it was great to finally be available to attend the event and for R. Chapman for all his assistance in helping me plan for my week at Nellis.