USA II 2023
A group of fellow enthousiast ventured out to Arizona, Nevada and California in March 2023 to witness the Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, the airshows at MCAS Yuma and NAS Point Mugu and a lot of other interesting places in between. The weather was not cooperating all the time, but it again was a tour which did not disappoint the participants. Lots of new aircraft were seen and because of the flexibility of the group other locations, than originally planned were visited. We hope we can plan a similar tour again in 2024.
In the morning of 9 March 2023 a group of seven gathered at Amsterdam-Schiphol for a flight to the USA via London-Heathrow. At London another seven people joined to group and after eleven hours we arrived at San Diego Airport where met the final participant of this tour, who was already a couple of days in San Diego. With a group of fifteen we quickly picked up our rental cars and after a short drive we arrived in our first hotel.
On this Friday 10 March 2023, we started the day with a look at NAS North Island from the lighthouse at Point Loma. Sadly it was cloudy today with strong winds, which would increase during the afternoon. After viewing here, we were just in time to see a MH-60T depart from the local US Coast Guard station. From here the group would split up in three parts. Four people went to the USS Midway Museum, three did a boat tour around NAS North Island and the rest went to Dog Beach for spotting in the approach of NAS North Island. Sadly flying activities were a bit slow, but in the end the group that went to dog beach got some brand new CMV-22Bs, some US Navy MH-60S and MH-60R and highlight was the approach of an Edwards F-35A and multiple approaches of an Indian Navy MH-60R who conduct pilot training with the local HSM-41. Those who did the boat tour could witness a testflight of three MV-22Bs together with two VH-60Ns because of an upcoming visit of President Biden on Sunday. As it was getting darker and darker in the afternoon and the rain started to increase, we went to the local Gillespie Museum where we just arrived before closing time. Luckily access was granted and we could take some nice pictures, before we headed to MCAS Yuma, for the airshow next day. During a short stop we found a UH-1H Huey on top of a petrol station.
Today, Saturday 11 March 2023, we arrived early at MCAS Yuma for the annual airshow. Luckily the weather was much better than the day before. Shortly after arrival we found out that there was a tight security protocol, especially for foreigners. After 90 minutes everybody was on the showground to find a variety of aircraft. All based squadrons had a single airframe on static, which resulted in multiple F-35Bs, AH-1Z, UH-1Y, MV-22B and a single UC-12F. Visiting aircraft included a rare USAF AT-6E, Marines F/A-18D from VMFA(AW)-224, KC-130J, CH-53E and many more. The flying display saw presence of the USAF F-35A display Team, the USMC F-35B display Team, the MV-22B display team and some flypasts of local based aircraft. At the end of the day, we drove to Tucson where we would spend the next two days.
On Sunday morning 12 March 2023, nine of the group did the famous overflight over the boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB from Ryan Field. Since a few years this is the only way of getting a good overview of the more than 3,500 aircraft present as the bus tour from the Pima museum has stopped indefinitely. The arrivals ramp was packed with recent arrivals like ZZ F-15s, multiple E-8Cs and some recently retired T-1As. The rest of the group went to the excellent Pima Air and Space Museum, others did a small tour along some scrapyards. Two people made the trip to the Titan Missile Museum.
On Monday (13 March) we started the day at Tucson IAP, sadly to find out that the local 162nd FW wasn’t flying in the morning. As the A-10Cs and local C-130s were seen flying, we soon went to the approach of Davis Monthan AFB, where we enjoyed the arrival of multiple A-10Cs. After two hours, the runway direction was changed, so we continued the arrivals from the Pima museum parking lot. To our surprise an E-4B arrived, a visit related to Bidens visit to San Diego. Also we had the arrival of an additional T-1A for storage at the boneyard. In the afternoon four F-16s from 195th FS/162nd FW made an approach at Davis Monthan AFB and as the 195th FS recently sent their own aircraft to the US Navy, they got new aircraft from various Air National Guard units, which was nice for us. After the last A-10Cs arrived we headed to Phoenix as we would spend the next day at Luke AFB.
Tuesday 14 March 2023, we were at 07:30 am in the approach of Luke AFB, where soon the first F-35As form 61st FS departed, together with two aggressors F-16s from ATAC, still in their former IDF/AF camouflage as well as two ATAC Mirage F1s. The sortie of 61st FS was quickly followed by 63rd FS, who also sent eight F-35As airborne. In the meantime we got information that the other Luke AFB based squadrons, being the F-35A squadrons 62nd FS and 308th FS, as well as the final USAF F-16 squadron (309th FS), were on night flying this week, resulting in a start at 4 pm only. As the 61st FS and 63rd FS ended flying around 1400lt, we waited for the departure of the first wave of the squadrons that were night flying.
This effort, although the weather turned from partially sunny to heavily clouded to even some light rain, paid off as the 309th FS decided today to fly the end of afternoon mission with 8 F-16s, including three in a special colour scheme. One aircraft is dedicated of being the only F-16D ever making an air-to-air kill as this F-16D is painted in an attractive two tone desert c/s. Other special painted F-16s included the aircraft belonging to the commanders of the 309th FS and the recently deactivated 310th FS. In the end, we also saw some FMS F-35As from Norway (4), Denmark (3), The Netherlands (2) and Italy (1). As we waited for the arrival of the return of these aircraft we still had a long drive to go to Las Vegas, where we would stay the next three days. At the end of the day we had a total of 30 different F-35As, 10 F-16s and 5 different Mirage F1s.
Wednesday 15 March, was our first out of three planned days at Nellis AFB where the main target was to see the Red Flag 23-2 participants. Highlight of this edition was the presence of the IDF/AF with seven F-35I Adirs and two KC-707s. Other units participating were HC-130J and HH-60Gs from the New York Air National Guard, Hill F-35As, legacy Hornets from VMFA-232, B-1Bs from Ellsworth AFB, F-16Cs from the New Jersey ANG, Growlers from VAQ-132 as well as no less than 30 F-16s from Shaw AFB and some E-3Gs from Tinker AFB. Due to strong winds at the range, today’s mission was partially cancelled, but we were still able to see most units active. Crossing midfield was one of two VC-25As as Biden moved from San Diego to Las Vegas. Sadly the S-92 present at Nellis AFB wasn’t flying during his stay in Vegas. At the end of the day, about half of the group went to the strip to enjoy the madness that Las Vegas has to offer.
On Thursday 16 March, the wind was less strong than the day before, resulting in a full Red Flag mission with all units participating. Next to that, the local base weapons school was also more active than the day before resulting in local F-15Es, F-16s and A-10Cs. Today also two Eglin based A-10Cs were visiting.
Friday 17 March, although another day at Nellis AFB was planned, we decided to go to March ARB instead, as all pictures that could be made at Nellis AFB, were already made. During the afternoon there we had visit of five F-35s (2x F-35A and 3x F-35B), as well as four visiting C-130s, including one operated by the Philippine Air Force. March ARB was also a lot closer to our destination of the next day, being the airshow at NAS Point Mugu.
Saturday 18 March, was already the last full day of this tour. After (again) a tight security protocol for foreigners, we were soon on static display to watch the various aircraft present. As NAS Point Mugu is home of test unit VX-30, we could see various aircraft from them, like multiple P-3Cs, C-130T, MQ-8C and E-2D. Sister test units from MAWS China Lake sent 4 Hornets/Growlers as well as a single MH-60S. Other static aircraft were an F-35C and two Luke AFB F-35As. The flying display was opened by three MH-60s from nearby NAS North Island. Highlights in the flying display were the US Navy Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds. It was only the third time ever they performed at the same event. Other flying display were a based CA ANG C-130J doing a MAFFS water drop and a based HH-65A performing a demonstration of a rescue mission. All in all it was a great out in a fantastic atmosphere. After we left the base, we had a short visit to the heritage parc of NAS Point Mugu, which contains a EA-6B, F-14A and F-4S.
Sunday 19 March was already the last day of the tour, we would leave the United States for London-Heathrow in the afternoon, so we had some time left to explore a few sites. We decided to head to the Ronald Reagan Library to see the preserved F-14A and F-117A outside. Inside this library are the former AF1 VC-137 and Marine1 VH-3A. After this museum we went to the Western Museum of flight to catch the YF-23A prototype as well as some other aircraft. Final destination for the tour was the Los Angeles Science Center were besides the A-12 and F/A-18A outside, also the sole remaining F-20A Tigershark, a NT-38A, F-104D and the Space Shuttle Endeavour can be found. It was the end of another great trip to this region.
British Airways helped in extending the tour, by having the group wait for alternative connecting flights at Heathrow.