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Nellis' Golden Air Tattoo


Nellis April 1997

In 1996 it became clear that a good week of spotting with some interesting air show became a possibility in the USA. In April of 1997 the USAF would celebrate its 50th Anniversary with a show at Nellis in the same period there where shows at Fallon and El Torro so a trip was born.

The Golden Air Tattoo, to celebrate 50 years of USAF, was promoted as the show of the century so expectations where very high. On arrival for the press day it became obvious that the rumours where indeed rumours but still there was more then enough to see at the show

The static contained most of the type's current in service at that time, alongside a collection historic USAF aircraft.
The amount of highlight was big with aircraft like the B-2 on the static and on the other side of the envelope the oldest airplane still in service a NT33A from CALSPAN, making its last public appearance before final retirement to the museum at Wright Patterson AFB.

Being on the base on the arrival and practice day gave a lot of photo opportunities that are not possible on the show day it self. Like taking pictures of the static, in Europe we are complaining about fences and wires around the aircraft. Well in the US it is normal to sit under every aircraft and watch the show from there, and yes you can sit underneath a T-33.

The Air Force participants on the static where from all the trades of the air force. All the present bombers where present as where the bombers of WWII except from the B-29 FIFI. In the transport section the small C-12 was present as well as the C-5 and C-141, whilst one area of the static could boast seven variants of the C-130 Hercules.

Interesting planes on the static included a NASA YF-15, F-4 Phantoms in a freshly applied Vietnam style camouflage scheme, and a variety of trainers and local aircraft from Nellis AFB
From the trainers almost every type of trainer used by the air force was present, trainers really do well as a warbird.
Other interesting static participants included a E-8 and a EF-111. Parked next to the EF-111 was a EA-6 from the Navy, at that moment there where planes to us them for the air force from the moment the EF-111 stopped flying.

Representative of the 57 wing where spread over the static, those aggressor F-16's due look nice. Even the future type for 57 Wing was present in the form off a F-22. This was one of two YF22A prototypes built and was displayed carrying the false serial ‘86022’. The true identity was actually 870700, which was the aircraft that crash landed at Edwards AFB in 1992, and was subsequently rebuilt to static display standard only.



Before the start of a Korean War tribute involving four beautifully restored Sabres, three F86Fs and a Canadair CL13B, which together outnumbered the ‘opposition’, which was represented  by an equally immaculate Chinese built Mig15.
We had the opportunity to photograph retired Brigadier General Steve Ritchie, a veteran pilot ace, with five confirmed kills to his credit, all Mig21s whilst flying the F4 over Vietnam in front of a F-4 decorated with the 5 kills.

Being the only U.S. Air Force pilot ace of the Vietnam War, Steve Ritchie, then a captain, shot down his fifth MiG-21 on Aug. 28, 1972, making him the only U.S. Air Force pilot ace in the Vietnam War, but his most thrilling aerial dogfight took place nearly two months earlier, when he shot down two MiGs with three missiles in 1 minute, 29 seconds - not bad, considering a bone specialist told him as a highschooler he'd never play football nor anything else that strenuous

These are the kills he made during this period.

Date In Aircraft Tail Code Type
May 10 F-4D 66-7463   OY MiG-21
May 31 F-4D 65-0801   OY MiG-21
July 8 F-4E 67-0362   ED MiG-21
July 8 F-4E 67-0362   ED MiG-21
August 28 F-4D 66-7463   OY MiG-21

Ritchie joined Navy Cmdr. Randy Cunningham as the only pilots among the five American aces during the Vietnam War. The other three were WSOs , Capt. Charles B. "Chuck" DeBellevue (air force), LTJG William P. Driscoll (navy) and Capt. Jeff Feinstein (air force)


One very interesting trio from 475 WEG,  included a E-9 A type never seen outside the USA and two targets.
A QF-4E and a QF-106A which was still sporting some interesting artwork and titles from its previous owner when it was in service with the New Jersey ANG’s 177 FIG. Interestingly this was one of the aircraft we pictured in a visit to the New Jersey ANG’s 177 FIG in 1987 the last year of the operational life of the F-106.

As far as foreign static participation was concerned, this was confined to a pair of RAF Tornado off 31 Squadron and 617 Squadron, alongside their support tanker, a VC-10 from 101 Squadron. Whilst immediately behind the RAF contingent was a RAAF F-111C from 6 Squadron. Further down the static was a Chilean Boeing 707 and a Hercules from Brazil Both in support of there countries display team.

The flying display itself opened with what we now call the heritage flights. This comprised of A-10 and P-40 Warhawk, F-15 and P-38L Lightning, and finally F-16 and P-51 Mustang. The display then followed a set pattern of themed flypasts like a transport group and displays.

There were a total of five display teams in attendance, one of which, not surprisingly, was the resident Thunderbirds. The remainder comprised of the Halcones from Chile (Extra 300), Esquadrilha da Fumaça or Smoke Squadron from Brazil (T27 Tucano), the Snowbirds from Canada (CT114 Tutor), and Blue Impulse from Japan (Kawasaki T4). The Japanese team was especially welcome as it was making its display debut outside Japan. The aircraft had actually been dismantled and shipped to San Diego, and then reassembled and flown out from North Island NAS.

This was also not the first time we had seen the Thunderbirds display and experienced their style of doing a display. Not at all the style of the European teams.

Of all the historic types in the static, there two that made a big impression on us the EC-121 Warning Star operated by the Global Aeronautical Foundation, and the MATS C-121 this magnificent silver aircraft was most impressive on the ground but even more during is aerial display.

The Air Tattoo itself lived up to all expectations, the weather was glorious and the variety of aircraft was good .  Highlights included a airworthy Lockheed Constellations, passes of a B-2 and F-117, and of course the aircraft flowing by legends as Chuck Yeager and Bud Anderson. They flew P-51 Mustangs restored in the colours of those flown by them. And Steve Ritchie displaying a F-4 Phantom.

We would like to thank the people of the Public Relations at Nellis AFB for there time and effort in arranging during the show.



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