An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 aviation fans marveled at the sights and sounds of jets, breathtaking aerial stunts and high-speed air racing during the free Aviation Nation air show at Nellis Air Force Base last weekend.
The diverse mixture of displays and performances at Nellis gave enthusiasts a multifaceted experience in the world of aviation.
Almost a century of powered flight was represented beginning with the replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer to the newest military jets and bombers.
The spectators were privileged to see participants such as former Apollo and shuttle astronauts, Bill Anders and Frank Borman, Tuskegge Airman and aerobatic champions, Patty Wagstaff and Jim LeRoy.
Deemed the "missile with the man in it," the F-104 Starfighter demo team raced across the skies in formation at high speeds. The brilliant blue and white aircraft are the only fully operational, civilian owned supersonic jet team on the air show circuit.
All branches of the military got to show their muscle with demonstrations.
The Air Force's Thunderbirds, the West Coast A-10 team, the F-15 team, the Army's Golden Knights Parachute team, the Marines' AV-8B Harrier and the newest Air Force trainer, the T-6 Texan II showed their capabilities.
Reflecting pride in airpower, past and present, heritage flights consisting of an F-15, F-86, P-51's, an A-10 and P-47 fostered the patriotic sprit of the multitude of aviation enthusiasts.
The Thunderbirds performed precision formation flying and solo routines showing off the proficiency of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The unit has performed across the globe reaching an estimated 315 million people since 1953.
The A-10 team, based out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. performs about 30 shows a year.
The single seat A-10's, first built in 1978 is the first Air Force aircraft specially designed for close air support of ground forces.
The A-10 flew more than 8,000 sorties during the Gulf War.
The twin-engine turbo fanned aircraft are predicted to be in service until 2015.
The 354th fighter squadron of A-10's, also based at Davis Monthan is currently deployed overseas.
"There's nothing to take its place right now, " said pilot, Rob Kiebler.
The role of the Marine's AV-8B Harrier was confirmed with a demonstration of a 90 degree climbing turn, a high-speed pass and a vertical landing.
The Harrier conducts deep air support using various types of missiles and bomb weapons.
The AV-8B flew 3,380 sorties during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Las Vegas style air racing was revealed to the southern Nevadans as they witnessed the speed of the modified warbirds zip around a closed course over Nellis.
Sponsors, Boyd Gaming showcased the invitational exhibition that brought the nation's top racers including Dago Red, winner of this year's National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nev.
The P-51, piloted by Skip Holm was among the F-8F "Rare Bear," a Hawker Sea Fury and other P-51's that revealed to the crowd what the fastest motor sport is all about.
The vintage aircraft fly low and fast-reaching speeds in excess of 450 mph.
"We are excited to see air racing come to Las Vegas," said World of Wings CEO, Bob Avery.
World of Wings, the company responsible for promoting Aviation Nation has set their sites on bringing more air racing to the Las Vegas area.
"We have done a lot of research and believe there's massive economic potential for the area," Avery said.
"It makes a lot of sense."
"Air show attendance is already bigger than NASCAR and the NFL," he said.
Aviation Nation also played host to the unveiling of the U.S Aerobatic team, which will represent the United States in the 2003 World Aerobatic Championships in Lakeland, Fla.
Mike Mangold, member of the team for three years is the current national four-minute air show champion and four-time California unlimited aerobatic champion.
The Victorville, Calif. resident who began his aerobatic career in 1990, flies an Edge 540.
"To be good you have to practice about 250-300 hours a year."
The performances of these propeller driven aircraft are a virtual ballet in the sky as they tumble, fly backwards and can loop at a mere 1,000 feet.
These pilots pull about 12 G's during their competition.
Known around the world for her precision aerobatics, Patty Wagstaff thrilled the onlookers with her low level performance.
Her aircraft, an Extra 300S is capable of executing the most difficult routines of unlimited aerobatics.
Wagstaff is a three-time U.S. National Aerobatic champion and six-time member of the National Aerobatic team.
Air show performer Jim "Bulldog" LeRoy describes his Pitts Special, Model S2S as a significantly modified powerful and easily controllable airplane.
"It's like NASCAR is to a car you buy off the street," he said. "It's one of a kind."
Although LeRoy may sometimes look out of control during his routine, every part is choreographed with aerobatic maneuvers displayed with precision at low altitudes.
LeRoy, of Ripon, Calif. is a former marine sniper and has a degree in aeronautical engineering.
With a rough estimate of 350,000 to 400,000 attendees this year, the next show, already in the planning stages promises to be even bigger.
Next years' event will commemorate centennial anniversary of powered flight and the 50th anniversary of the Thunderbirds.
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