Nellis Air Force Base ("Nellis" colloq.) is a southern Nevada installation with military schools and more squadrons than any other USAF base. Nellis is the airbase for air combat exercises such as Red Flag and close air support exercises such as Green Flag-West flown in "Military Operations Area (MOA) airspace". associated with the nearby Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The base also has the Combined Air and Space Operations Center-Nellis.
After World War I, Nevada and other western inland states were surveyed by Capt. Lowell H. Smith and Sgt. William B. Whitefield for landing sites, and by "mid-1925 the Air Service possessed information on nearly thirty-five hundred landing places, including more than twenty-eight hundred emergency landing areas, in the United States." The 1929 airfield (dirt runway, water well, and small operations shack) north of Las Vegas—operated by the 1925 Western Air Express for Contract Air Mail (CAM) Route #4, LA-to-SLC—was used by the Army Air Corps in the 1930s for training flights (the 'WA' aircraft tailcodes reflect Western Air Express). After the Invasion of Poland in 1939, the "western site board" had located a southern Nevada area "near Tonopah, Nev" by April 1940 for a military range, and in October 1940, Air Corps Major David Schlatter surveyed the southwest United States for a military airfield. "The 60 x 90 mile area at Tonopah was transferred to the War Department on 29 October 1940" by Executive Order 8578.
Renamed to McCarren Field in the mid-1930s, there were "difficulties in securing the use" of the airfield north of Las Vegas for a Nevada World War II Army Airfield.) McCarren Field was bought on 2 January 1941 by the City of Las Vegas, was leased to the Army on 5 January, and was "signed over" to the Quartermaster Corps on 25 January—Army construction began in March 1941. The city's Federal Building became the May 1941 location of the 79th Air Base Group detachment (5 staff officers commanded by Lt. Col. Martinus Stenseth), and a month later 5 administrative NCOs plus other support personnel arrived. WPA barracks in Las Vegas were used for enlisted men, and the motor pool with 6 vintage trucks and a semi-trailer was next to the WPA barracks. Vehicle parts were from local service stations and gasoline and oil from the Civilian Conservation Corps (the Block 16 brothels in Las Vegas were closed.) Permanent construction for barracks to house 3,000 people began in mid-1941, and by December 7, 10 AT-6 Texan advanced flight trainers and 17 Martin B-10 bombers were at the airfield.
Las Vegas Army Airfield
Las Vegas Army Airfield (Las Vegas Field colloq.) was both activated and began flying training on 20 December 1941, and gunnery training began in January 1942, (guntruck platforms were used in January and February.) Many pieces of the destroyed aerial drone targets litter the hillside north of the gunnery range and can be seen in town when the sun reflects off of them.
The 1st B-17 Flying Fortresses arrived in 1942 and allowed training of 600 gunnery students and 215 co-pilots from LVAAF every five weeks at the height of WWII, and more than 45,000 B-17 gunners were trained (USAAF training movie The Rear Gunner was filmed at the airfield in 1943.) The 82d Flying Training Wing for "Flexible Gunnery" was activated at the base as 1 of 10 AAF Flying Training Command wings on 23 August 1943 and by 1944, gunnery students fired from B-17, B-24 Liberator and B-40 Flying Fortress gunship aircraft (e.g., at aircraft-towed targets).
In March 1945, the base switched to B-29 gunnery training which included the manipulation trainer on the ground with camera guns, and the subsequent population peaked with nearly 11,000 officers and enlisted personnel including more than 4,700 students. Flexible gunnery training ended in September 1945, and the base became a demobilization center for soldiers' separation physicals and final pay. A course of navigator, bombardier, and radar operator training planned for LVAAF was instead begun at Mather Army Airfield in June 1946. AAF Training Command closed LVAAF which went on caretaker status 28 August 1946 ("officially deactivated in January 1947"). During the planning for a separate air force, the Las Vegas AAF was reactivated "30 Aug 47 as a subinstallation of Mather", and it transferred to the USAF after the branch was created in September.
Las Vegas Air Force Base
Renamed Las Vegas Air Force Base on 13 January 1948 and assigned as a subinstallation of Williams AFB on 1 April, the 3595th Pilot Training Wing (Advanced Single-Engine) was established on 22 December 1948. Training began at Las Vegas AFB on 1 March 1949 with 5 squadrons using P-51 Mustangs for a 6-month course (3,000 USAF pilots needed trained by 1950). The 3525th Aircraft Gunnery Squadron activated on 11 February 1949, the base hosted the 1st USAF Gunnery Meet on May 2, and ATC opened its LVAFB Aircraft Gunnery School on 15 May 1949.
Nellis Air Force Base was named on 30 April 1950, and the 20 May 1950 dedication was attended by Lieutenant Nellis' family. By 1 July the Air Force had directed ATC to accelerate Korean War training for a new 95-wing Air Force. The first school opened at Nellis, and ATC redesignated the 3595th Pilot Training Wing (Advanced Single-Engine) as the 3595th Training Wing (Combat Crew). On 17 July 1950, Nellis began a replacement pilot training program to provide 115 FEAF F-51 Mustang pilots and 92 combat-ready F-80 Shooting Star pilots. Nellis' advanced single-engine pilot training transferred to Alabama on 1 September 1950. Nellis assumed fighter-bomber training, and ATC established its USAF Air Crew School (Fighter) on 14 November 1950, equipped with F-80s and early-model F-84C Thunderjets. On 1 October, Nellis AFB base management functions transferred from Williams AFB. In early 1951, ATC assigned recently graduated airplane and engine mechanics to Nellis to learn jet aircraft maintenance. The airfield was expanded 1951-4 with longer jet-capable runways, reconfigured taxiways and a larger aircraft parking ramp; and WWII wooden structures were replaced with concrete and steel structures (e.g., barracks and base housing for married personnel). The first Wherry houses were completed in 1954, with updated Capehart houses being completed in February 1960.
USAF Fighter Weapons School
The USAF Fighter Weapons School was designated on 1 January 1954 from the squadron when the Air Crew School graduated its last Combat Crew Training Class (the primary Weapons School mission was gunnery instructor training.) In the mid-1950s for Operation Teapot nuclear testing, 1 of the 12 Zone Commanders was based at Nellis AFB for community liaison/public relations (weapons for other atomic tests were stored at Nellis). Air Training Command suspended training at the Nellis fighter weapons school in late 1956 because of the almost total failure of the F-86 Sabre aircraft used at Nellis, and during 1958 ATC discontinued its Flying Training and Technical Training.
Tactical Air Command
Nellis AFB transferred to Tactical Air Command on 1 February 1958, and the Nellis mission transitioned from initial aircraft qualification and gunnery training to advanced, graduate-level weapons training. Soon after the transfer to TAC, the F-100C and F-100D entered the school inventory. The 3585th wing assets were redesignated as the 4520th Combat Crew Training Group by TAC on 1 Jul 1958.
4520th Combat Crew Training Wing
The 4520th Combat Crew Training Wing was designated fom the 4520the CCTG on 1 May 1961), and the Combat Crew training squadrons were renumbered. The 4537th Fighter Weapons Squadron had been assigned F-105D Thunderchiefs in March 1961, and the wing taught veteran pilots in all phases of fighter weapon employment: air-to-air gunnery, rocketry, conventional and nuclear bombing, aeria1 refueling, and combat navigation. The F-4 Phantom II Instructor Course began in mid-1965 and during the Vietnam War, experienced combat pilots were used as Fighter Weapons instructors at Nellis. On 1 January 1966 the USAF Fighter Weapons School was activated at Nellis with F-100, F-4, and F-105 divisions and on 1 September 1966, Fighter Weapons School elements and the 4520th CCTW merged to activate the 4525th Fighter Weapons Wing.
USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center
The USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center activated at Nellis AFB on 1 January 1966 (USAF Warfare Center after 15 Nov 2005) is the USAF authority for employment of tactical fighter weapons. The center has developed, refined, coordinated, validated and tested fighter concepts, doctrine, tactics, and procedures. The FWC also performed operational test and evaluation and prepared or monitored Air Force publications on employment tactics, aircrew training, and aircrew weapons delivery. It has supervised courses of the US Air Force Fighter Weapons School, adversary tactics training, and Wild Weasel training, and other combat and tactical schools.
The FWC supervised Red Flag operational training and other continuing air exercises, such as Green Flag and Silver Flag Alpha. The center also directed operations of the US Air Force Bomber and Tanker, Employment School since 1992 and the Air Rescue Center since 1993. The USAF Air Demonstration Squadron with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds moved from Arizona to Nellis AFB in June 1956.
474th Tactical Fighter Wing
The 474th Tactical Fighter Wing was reassigned from New Mexico to Nellis AFB on 20 January 1968 and was the first USAF operational wing equipped with the General Dynamics F-111—6 of the F-111As departed Nellis for Vietnam on 15 March 1968 (Combat Lancer). Nellis provided replacements for 2 lost F-111s, and the F-111s returned to the USA in November 1968. The wing's 428th Tactical Fighter Squadron reached IOC in spring 1968 with F-111s, and the TFW was fully operational in July 1971. The Lake Mead Base, a 1953-6 United States Navy's weapons storage area of , became Area II of the Nellis AFB complex in September 1969.
The 430th TFS returned to the 474th TFW Nellis on 22 March 1973 assuming a replacement training unit mission, while the 428th and 429th were transferred to Mountain Home AFB on 30 July 1973. Post-war the 474th's mission was to train combat-ready force of aircrews and maintained a rapid-reaction capability to execute fighter attacks against enemy forces and facilities in time of crisis. In 1975, the 428th and 429th Tactical Fighter Squadrons were reassigned to the wing with F-111As (transferred to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, in August 1977) and the 474th Wing absorbed the F-4D Phantom II aircraft, crews, and resources of the inactivating provisional 4474th Tactical Fighter Wing at Nellis in April 1977. The wing was inactivated in September 1989, and its F-16As transferred to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve squadrons.
57th Fighter Weapons Wing
The 57th Fighter Weapons Wing was activated at Nellis on 15 October 1969 to replace the 4525th FWW (its Fighter Weapons Squadrons transferred to the 57th). The USAF Air Demonstration Squadron (the "Thunderbirds") was assigned to the 57th in February 1974, and the wing incorporated intelligence training after March 1980. Redesignated the 57th Tactical Training Wing in 1977, the wing trained tactical fighter aircrews, conducted operational tests and evaluations, demonstrated tactical fighter weapon systems, and developed fighter tactics. The 57th's 4440th Tactical Fighter Training Group (Red Flag) assumed operational control of Red Flag exercises in October 1979; and the 57th developing realistic combat training operations featuring adversary tactics, dissimilar air combat training, and electronic warfare.
Nellis' 4477th Tactical Evaluation Flight ("Red Eagles") operated MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s at the Tonopah Test Range Airport (late 1960s-) to simulate combat against U.S. combat aircraft. Named Constant Peg in 1980, the operation assessed the Soviet technology and developed adversary tactics for dissimilar air combat training. After completion of training, the Aggressor pilots were assigned to the DACT squadrons, one of which was assigned to Nellis. During the 1970s, a site northwest of Nellis evaluated a Soviet "Barlock" search radar to develop techniques for countering Soviet air defense systems.
In 1981, the Gunsmoke gunnery meet was first held and the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing was reorganized as part of the establishment of the Fighter Weapons School, e.g., the 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron for aircraft modifications was established on 30 December 1981 from the 422d Fighter Weapons Squadron. Iin 1990, the 64th and 65th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadrons and the 4440th TFTG were inactivated in 1990 at the end of the Cold War. In November 1991, the 57th implemented the USAF Objective Wing organization which was the most comprehensive USAF reorganization plan since 1947, activating the 57th Operations Group for Nellis airfield operations and establishing the 57th Test Group.
Air Combat Command
Nellis transferred to Air Combat Command on June 1, 1992, at the end of the Cold War when Tactical Air Command was inactivated. The 57th Wing was designated on 15 June 1993 from the 57th Operations Group in conjunction with the introduction of the RQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The USAF Combat Rescue School was also established in 1993 for HH-60 Pave Hawk instructional flying. "In 1996, AETC moved the PJ Advanced Weapons Course from Nellis AFB to Kirtland AFB". The 98th Range Wing was activated at Nellis on 29 October 2001 for Nellis Air Force Range control (previous range control was by the FWC.) After Detachment 13, 372d Trainining Squadron opened its F/A-22 maintenance training facility on 29 November 2001, on 14 January 2003 Nellis received the first production F-22A Raptor for the F-22 Force Development Evaluation program and Weapons School (12 Raptors had been assigned to the 422d Test and Evaluation Squadron by July 2008.)
"Agressor" training was reactivated under the 57th Operations Group in 2003 and in 2006 Nellis had the Air Ground Operations School. On 1 May 2007, the UAV reconnaissance elements assigned to the 57th Operations Group transferred to the 432nd Wing. Detachment 1 of the Space Warfare Center was established at Nellis in 1996 after the "Nellis Combined Air Operations Center", the Warfare Center transferred Nellis Air Force Range control to the 98th Range Wing in 2001, and the annual Aviation Nation airshow began at Nellis in 2002. The Nellis Solar Power Plant constructed 23 April 2007-December 2007 on Nellis' west side was visited by president Barack Obama on 27 May 2009. In 2010, the 505th Operations Squadron operated the Combined Air and Space Operations Center-Nellis.
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Major units assigned