The West Coast of the United States of America is full of military air bases hosting a multitude of rare and interesting aircraft types, including Nellis Air Force base, host of the world’s most famous military exercises. It is therefore a no brainer that members of MAR visited this area of the world on more than one occasion due to the various spotting opportunities offered. Following an earlier visit in March 2015, MAR returned to the USA in September 2018 for another two weeks of military photography.

On the 09th September 2018, we landed at LAX, Los Angeles International Airport, and some of us being the first time in the United States, we didn’t know what to expect so we were quite enthusiastic so see what the next days would offer to us.

Day 1: Naval Air Station Point Mugu

We started the first day at Naval Air Station Point Mugu for some hours. In the spotting location, there is a missile museum that hosts a lot of iconic missiles and a US Navy F-14A and F-4J. On that day the base was quite quiet with only a few movements as you will see below. Since it’s not the easiest airbase to take photos we stayed there until the sun was still in our favor then we drove off to the Nevada Desert.

Aircraft Observed:         

  • 2x ATAC Hunter Mk58 (Based at NAS Point Mugu)
  • 1x ATAC KFIR C2 (Based at NAS Point Mugu)
  • 1x USAF C-130J-30 (115th AS based at NAS Point Mugu)
  • 1x USCG MH-65D (5th Coast Guard District based at Atlantic City/Intl)
  • 2x USN E-2C (VAW-115/VAW-116 based at NAS Point Mugu)
  • 1x PHOENIX AIR LJ36 (Based at NAS Point Mugu)

DAY 2-3: Death Valley

On the 2nd and 3rd day we woke up in the vicinity of the Rainbow Canyon (a.k.a Star Wars Canyon or Jedi Transition). The Rainbow Canyon is a canyon within Death Valley National Park in Inyo County, California, on the park’s western border. It is approximately 260 km north of Los Angeles. It is commonly used by the United States Air Force and Navy for fighter jet training. Seeing photos from previous photographers made this destination a must on our tour so we went to give it a try. Temperatures were quite high here but the breathtaking fly passes from jets made our days! Then in the afternoon of the 3rd day, we drove off to Las Vegas where we managed to capture the last Raptor landing in Nellis AFB.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 2x USN F/A-18E (VFA-137/ VFA-113 based at NAS Lemoore)
  • 4x USN F/A-18F (VFA-94/VX-9/VX-31 based at NAS Lemoore and NAWS China Lake)
  • 1x USN F-35C (VX-23 based at NAS Patuxent River)
  • 4x USAF F-16C (416th FLTS/64th AGRS based at Edwards AFB and Nellis AFB)
  • 1x USAF F-35A (461st FLTS based at Edwards AFB)
  • 1x USAF F-22A (422nd TES based at Nellis AFB)
  • 1x USMC AV-8B (VX-31 based at NAWS China Lake)

DAY 4-5: Nellis AFB

These two days were spent at Nellis AFB, Nevada during the Green Flag Exercise. Due to the position of the base morning shots are quite difficult but we did our best to get some shots and also in the afternoon it was quite challenging as aircraft were changing from one runway to the other all the time. We had spent two days running around the base to get the best photos possible.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 3x USN F/A-18E (VFA-131 based at NAS Oceana)
  • 2x USN EA-18G (VAQ-130/VX-9 based at NAS Whidbey Island and Edwards AFB)
  • 13x USAF F-16C (64th AGRS/16th WPS/24th TASS based at Nellis AFB)
  • 1x USAF HH-60G based at Nellis AFB)
  • 9x USAF F-15E (422nd TES/17th WPS/389th FS based at Nellis AFB and Mountain Home AFB)
  • 8x USAF A-10C (66th WPS/422nd TES based at Nellis AFB)
  • 1x USAF HC-130J (79th RQS based at Davis Monthan AFB)
  • 4X USAF F-35A (6th WPS based at Nellis AFB)
  • 6X USAF F-22A (422nd TES based at Nellis AFB)
  • 3x DRAKEN L-159E (Based at Nellis AFB)
  • 5x DRAKEN A-4N (Based at Nellis AFB)

DAY 6: Luke AFB & Phoenix-Mesa Airport

During this day, since it was a Saturday we drove from Las Vegas, Nevada to Phoenix, Arizona which took us around 6hrs drive, and on the way, we stopped quickly at Luke AFB to photograph one F-16 doing touch and go’s. Soon after we continued to Phoenix-Mesa Airport to photograph a single T-38C on the ramp.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 1x USAF F-16D ( 310th FS based at Luke AFB)
  • 1x USAF T-38C (87th FTS based at Laughlin AFB)

DAY 7: Fort Worth Alliance Airport

We had an internal flight booked from Phoenix International to Dallas International to spend some days in Texas. We arrived at Fort Worth Alliance Airport and to our surprise, being a Sunday, we found a ramp full of military aircraft and helicopters. They started one by one getting ready to depart and in the next few hours, the ramp was empty. During the day more visitors came from other bases for a night stop. It was quite a nice day to start the 2nd week in the US and with a lot of different types noted.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 1x USMC F/A-18A (VMFA-112 based at Fort Worth NAS JRB)
  • 6x USAF T-38C ( 90th FTS/88th FTS/469th FTS based at Sheppard AFB)
  • 1x USAF KC-135R (18th ARS based at McConnell AFB)
  • 1x USAF C-17A (89th AS based at Wright Patterson AFB)
  • 4x USAF T-6A (89th FTS/85th FTS based at Sheppard AFB and Laughlin AFB)
  • 3x USAF HH-60G (305th RQS based at Davis Monthan AFB)
  • 1x USN F/A-18E (VFA-131 based at NAS Oceana)
  • 4x USN T-44C (VT-31 based at NAS Corpus Christi)
  • 1X USN T-45C (TAW-2 based at NAS Kingsville)

DAY 8-9: NAS Fort Worth JRB

We woke up in the vicinity of Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base (NAS Fort Worth JRB) where we photographed the morning wave of F-16s from Texas ANG departing for their local missing and also light transport traffic from the base, as well as some F-18’s that were night stopping at the base. Also, JRB is the home of Lockheed Martin’s Production line of all newly built F-35’s. Performing their test flights, we saw two exotic jets, as seen in the below photos. On day 9 we practically did the same as day 8 but went for a quick look at Fort Worth Alliance again to see what’s on the ramp. In the evening we flew back to Phoenix, Arizona to continue our journey the next day.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 15x USAF F-16C (457th FS based at Fort Worth NAS JRB)
  • 1x USAF F-16D (Lockheed Martin based at Fort Worth)
  • 4x USAF F-35A (4th FS/63rd FS/308th FS based at Hill AFB and Luke AFB)
  • 8x USAF T-38C ( 90th FTS/469th FTS based at Sheppard AFB)
  • 1x USAF C-130H (181st AS based at Fort Worth NAS JRB)
  • 1x USAF T-1A (3rd FTS based at Vance AFB)
  • 2x USAR C-12U (6-52nd AVN based at Fort Hood-Killeen)
  • 1x USAR UC-35A (6-52nd AVN based at Fort Hood-Killeen)
  • 2x USMC F/A-18A (VMFA-112 based at Fort Worth NAS JRB)
  • 1x USMC UC-12M (H&HS based at MCAS Beaufort)
  • 4x USMC KC-130J (VMGR-252 based at MCAS Cherry Point)
  • 1x USMCF/A-18D (RC) (VMFA(AW)-224 based at MCAS Beaufort)
  • 1x USMC F/A-18D (VMFA(AW)-224 based at MCAS Beaufort)
  • 1x USMC F/A-18C (VMFA-251 based at MCAS Cherry Point)
  • 1x USN F/A-18C (VFA-106 based at NAS Fallon)s
  • 1x USN F-35C (VX-23 based at NAS Patuxent River)
  • 1x IDF F-35A (140sq based at Nevatim AB)
  • 1x ROKAF F-35A (151 Fighter Squadron based at Cheongju)
  • 4x FAA C-90

DAY 10: Luke AFB & Davis Monthan AFB

On this day the weather didn’t play ball. We started with Luke AFB for the morning and took the two waves of F-35’s and F-16’s. Since Luke AFB is home to all new pilot training for the F-35A, both for the USAF and other countries, activity is quite high. Later on, we traveled to Davis-Monthan AFB where the weather was much worse, but we still managed to bag some A-10s before the light was completely gone.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 5x USAF A-10C (47th FS/357th FS/354th FS based at Davis Monthan AFB)
  • 16x USAF F-35A (61st FS/62st FS/63rd FS/308th FS based at Luke AFB)
  • 1x USAF F-16C (309th FS based at Luke AFB)
  • 1x USAF F-16D (309th FS based at Luke AFB)
  • 1x TURAF F-35A (63rd FS based at Luke AFB))
  • 3x RNOAF F-35A (62nd FS based at Luke AFB)
  • 2x RAAF F-35A (3sq/61st FS based at Williamtown and Luke AFB)

DAY 11: MCAS Yuma

Thankfully, the weather was much better on this day, we went to Tucson International Airport to see the Arizona F-16’s but to our surprise, none of them flew during the morning, so we decided to continue to MCAS Yuma for an afternoon of Marine activity. The activity here was quite high and we managed to capture some great shots of the landing aircraft. Once the last aircraft landed, we drove to our hotel which was in the vicinity of NAF El Centro for our last day.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 1x USN F-5N (VFC-13 based at NAS Fallon)
  • 3x USMC F-5N (VMFT-401 based at MCAS Yuma)
  • 6x USMC MV-22B (VMM-263/VMM-262/VMM-164 based at MCAS New River and MCAS Camp Pendleton)
  • 4x USMC F-35B (VMFA-122 based at MCAS Yuma)
  • 10x USMC AV-8B (VMA-311/ VMA-214/VMA-231/ VMA-542/VMM-163 based at MCAS Yuma, MCAS Cherry Point and MCAS Miramar)
  • 3x USMC KC-130J (VMGR-252/VMGR-352/VMGR-234 based at MCAS Cherry Point, MCAS Miramar and Fort Worth NAS JRB)
  • 1x USMC AH-1W (HMLA-775 based at MCAS Camp Pendleton)
  • 1x USMC CH-53E (HMH-462 based at MCAS Miramar)
  • 2x USMC HH-1N (Yuma SAR based at MCAS Yuma)
  • 3x USMC UH-1Y (HMLA-267/ HMLA-775 based at MCAS Camp Pendleton)
  • 1x RAF CHINOOK HC4 (Fleetlands based at RAF Odiham)

DAY 12: NAF El Centro

On our last day, we visited NAF El Centro in the morning where we observed a couple of Marines jets and helicopters. NAF El Centro is a United States Navy Naval Air Facility located approximately six miles northwest of El Centro, in Imperial County, California. NAF El Centro is under the jurisdiction of Navy Region Southwest and serves both as temporary home base to military units conducting air-to-air and bombing training, and as the winter training home of the Blue Angels.Once they landed we started our last 3-hour drive back to Los Angeles International Airport to catch our flight back home.

Aircraft Observed:

  • 1x USMC F/A-18D (VMFA(AW)-224 based at MCAS Beaufort)
  • 1x USMC CH-53E (HMH-465 based at MCAS Miramar)
  • 1x USMC F/A-18C (VMFA-251 based at MCAS Cherry Point)