c J Wagner-20221106_154515-02125-Aviation Nation 2022 air show featuring USAF Thunderbirds at Nellis Air Force Base—Las Vegas-R3 100-500mm-9447-Edit-6in x 300dpi

Aviation Nation 2022 with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

This year, due to an unexpected, last-minute opportunity, AutoMatters & More has covered not one but two U.S. military air shows. The MCAS Miramar Air Show, featuring the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels (see https://automatters.net/mcas-miramar-air-show-2022-featuring-the-blue-angels%EF%BF%BC/), and Aviation Nation, featuring the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds flight demonstration team.

By the weekend of that second air show, I had already been in Las Vegas for most of the week covering the annual SEMA Show, which had ended on Friday evening with SEMA Ignited. I had planned to sleep in a little the next day (Saturday) and then drive out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) to cover the racetrack portion of an amateur motorsports event: the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational (OUSCI).

LVMS is a huge facility, and the route that my GPS used to guide me there had me entering from the east side — not anywhere near the racetrack’s road course — where a long line of traffic was waiting to turn into a parking lot. I learned that people were being directed to park there in order to board shuttle buses that would take them onto Nellis Air Force Base for a big air show: Aviation Nation 2022! There would be no public parking on base, nor would foot traffic be allowed through any gate.

I quickly made a new plan for my day and executed it. First, I drove over to the other side of LVMS, where I quickly parked near the racetrack and used a long telephoto lens to shoot a few shots, from a long distance, of vehicles competing in the OUSCI motorsports event. That way I would have some photos of the motorsports event that I had driven out there to cover.

Racetrack portion of the 2022 Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational

As good luck would have it, the camera gear that I had brought from San Diego to cover that motorsports event was precisely what I use to cover air shows. I drove over to another parking lot, rolled my wheeled camera bag over to a waiting bus, made it through the Security screening and got a ride over to the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, to see the big air show.

The busses dropped us off on one end of the very long flight line, along which were arrayed numerous static displays, as well as vendors. It could easily have taken several hours just to check that out, but my priority was to shoot unobstructed shots of the flying, which had already begun.

I did not have a press credential for this event, and the crowds behind the barriers were already several persons deep. I decided to shoot what I could of the flying on Saturday, and return early on Sunday to shoot the ground exhibits — and hopefully take more photos of the flying from a better vantage point.

Flying in to the air show

I got as close to the front as I could (which was not very close), and began to shoot.

Heritage Flight

As the flying demonstrations progressed, I slowly managed to work my way forward and squeeze between two groups of people at the fence line — just in time to shoot the Thunderbirds: commissioned in 1953, and currently flying the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon.

After the Thunderbirds performance I asked a nearby — and coincidentally high-ranking — member of the Air Force how I might contact someone from media relations. Much to my pleasant surprise, he paused what he was doing and asked me to wait while he drove away in his golf cart to try to get information for me. He returned and gave me a name and a phone number. I called and secured a spot on the elevated press riser for Sunday!

Despite the MCAS Miramar Air Show and Aviation Nation being air shows from different branches of the military, they were actually quite similar with many static displays that included military aircraft and vehicles; a simulated military assault that included spectacular pyrotechnics (fiery explosions!); aerial demonstrations with a variety of military and civilian aircraft; and ending with a feature demonstration by each branch’s famous flight demonstration team: the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds.

To see more of Aviation Nation 2022, including some awesome in-flight video, go to: https://www.nellis.af.mil/Aviation-Nation/.

To explore a wide variety of content dating back to 2002, with the most photos and the latest text, visit “AutoMatters & More” at https://automatters.net. Search by title or topic in the Search Bar in the middle of the Home Page, or click on the blue ‘years’ boxes and browse.

Copyright © 2022 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #769r2

Jan Wagner


  1. David Sperry on January 19, 2023 at 10:29 pm

    Jan, no need for an apology. I figured you were working on another big project(s). I’ll wait for your next columns. In the meantime, I wish you a happy and prosperous 2023. David

  2. David Sperry on January 3, 2023 at 2:39 am

    Jan, what an exciting weekend you had! You start out to cover amateur auto racing and end up in the thick of things at the Air Force’s Thunderbirds Air Show. And then an Air Force Officer arranges press credentials for the elevated platform on Sunday. I believe that was the same day that the 8 planets (poor Pluto) were aligned.

    To this day, I don’t know how human skill and technology can work together to produce the precise formation flying of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels. Flying at high speed with wings tip to tip, in opposite directions and upside down, to me seems impossible.

    What a wonderful collection of photos, both static and action. You must still be asking yourself “how did this all fall into place”? David.

    • Jan Wagner on January 19, 2023 at 4:08 pm

      Hi David,
      Yes, that was truly an amazing and completely unexpected weekend. I ‘play it by ear’ whenever possible.
      I, too, do not understand how those pilots can safely fly wingtip to wingtip, and opposing close passes, safely, over and over again. Watching those performances by the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels never ceases to amaze me.
      I apologize for taking so long to reply to you. I did not see your comment until today (January 19, 2023), when I sat down at my computer to upload columns 774 and 775, after returning from a week’s coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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