Some of you may remember the iconic naval aviation blockbuster movie Top Gun. Its focus was on the Naval Fighter Weapons School pilot training of the best of the best. The Top Gun school was based at NAS Miramar but in 1996 it moved to Naval Air Station Fallon located in western Nevada. NAS Fallon is the United States Navy's premier air-to-air and air-to-ground training facility. It is also home to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Centre (NAWDC), which includes TOPGUN, the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (CAEWWS) and the Navy Rotary Wing Weapons School. Navy SEAL Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) training also takes place here.
The airfield at Fallon was originally built in 1942 adding to the defence network in fear of a Japanese attack during World War 2. Leading up to the 1970’s it was a Naval Auxiliary Air Station and used to support pre deployment of aircraft entering the Vietnam conflict and its importance to the Navy was recognised on January 1 1972 when it became a fully operational Naval Air station. It has three runways with the main runway at 14,000ft long, the longest in the Navy and also has its own bombing and electronic warfare ranges of some 234,124 acres in the nearby Lahontan and Dixie valleys.
Fallon is home to VFC-13 (Fighter Squadron Composite) nicknamed the Saints who provide the adversary training for the Navy and Marines. The squadron is manned by a near equal split of officers and enlisted ranks however what is different is that none of the maintenance personnel are wearing military fatigues. It’s without doubt not a viable option for the Navy to train military personnel to maintain an aircraft designed in the 1960’s and not in front line operation but there is still a wealth of engineers who have since left the forces and these civilians are employed through McDonnell Douglas.
They fly over 20 F-5E, F-5F and F-5N aircraft and they all sport a variety of different colour schemes of blue, grey, yellow, black or brown camouflage and to provide that final look of authenticity they carry Red stars on the tail. You may also spot on the pan a unique F-5. Its painted in black with the number 20 emblazoned on its nose, this is ‘Franken Tiger’- a twin seat airframe, the product of melding two different airframes together. The rear fuselage of a F-5E purchased from the Swiss Air Force bolted to the front end of a veteran F-5F.
This was my second visit to Fallon; back in Jan 2017 the weather gods played their hand as we witnessed a significant dust storm with 40 knot winds that by lunch time curtailed any hope of flying activity. So I looked forward to returning, in my eyes I had unfinished business here.
Whilst I was there I also got to witness first-hand the hard work that goes into maintaining these aircraft. F-16a ‘54’ 90-0945 made its first flight in over 5 years, research on this aircraft shows that it had been heavily cannibalised for parts as recent as 2015 and explains why it sports a number of different coloured panels including the rudder from ‘57’. With the boss at the controls on this first flight he initiated a performance take off, afterburner engaged and zoom climb to gain maximum height should he have any issues.
Fallon hosts regular training deployments for the Navy Carrier wings, it’s known throughout the Navy as the only base that can accommodate the comprehensive training required by an entire carrier air wing. During my visit the following were present:-
F/A-18A+ VFA-204 River Rattlers, US Navy reserve from New Orleans
F/A-18F VFA-102 Diamondbacks, Naval Air facility Atsugi, Japan - Carrier Wing 5
F/A-18E VFA-27 Royal Maces, Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan - Carrier Wing 5
EA-18G VAQ-135 Black Ravens, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island
Also present for a brief layover following participation in Red Flag 18/2 were three EA-18G Growlers from No 6 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, a recent addition to their inventory following their purchase in 2017. They were to transit back home in the following days. There were four jets deployed however one sustained a serious fire at Nellis Air Force Base and will likely be written off.
Many thanks to PA at NAS Fallon