What Aircraft/Action Can You See?
Nellis Air Force Base is one of the busiest Air Force Bases the United States has. It is home to The United States Air Force Thunderbirds, squadrons of F-22 Raptors, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Strike Eagles.
The base is also the main base to Creech Air Force Base which is the home of all of the UAV drones being flown in Iraq and Afghanistan. On any day of the week you are able to see F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-22 Raptors and F-15 Strike Eagles leaving for the Nellis Test Ranges.
14 times a year the base hosts either a Red Flag or Green Flag exercise. During these times the activity increases tremendously so much so that I have a few pages describing Red Flag and Red Flag plane spotting in Rachel, Nevada. During a Red Flag exercise there is no telling what aircraft may be spotted. C-130s, C-17s, C5s, B1Bs, B2s, the list is endless really. Along with the Air Force inventory of aircraft, the Navy, Army, and Marines also take part in the Flag exercises as well as militaries from around the world. So in all, if you are interested in military aircraft, Nellis is the perfect place for you to spend some time.
While the base is home to The USAF Thunderbirds, they practice during the winter and between air shows at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada roughly a 1 hour trip from Las Vegas.
Red Flag plane spotting near the Nellis Ranges is a whole different adventure. Most of the action takes place near Rachel, Nevada.
Where Do You Go?
Thankfully there are many places to plane spot at Nellis. The first location is Cheyenne Avenue north of Nellis Blvd. It is basically a dead end street that is littered with industry. Heavy truck traffic exists so please take care and be safe when on Cheyenne. The road crosses the flight lines of the base’s runways and gives the closest location to the base without being on the base itself. From Cheyenne you can take belly shots and close side shots of the aircraft. This location is great for launches to the south, and suitable for recoveries from the south, though the power lines will have you cursing as you review your pictures from the day.
Another location is the park on Cheyenne, south of Nellis Blvd. The park offers no views of the base but is nice for launches and recoveries from the south. The different angles you can get are what makes the spot worth mentioning.
Las Vegas Blvd. along the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is another excellent spot, actually spots. I must mention this STAY on the SPEEDWAY side of Las Vegas Blvd. DO NOT PARK ON THE BASE SIDE. Base security generally has no issues with taking photos of aircraft from the Speedway side, but will be out to usher you away if you park on the base side.
Las Vegas Speedway offers many good areas to view aircraft from Nellis. During recovery from the North, Gates 3-6 are great locations. The aircraft will bank directly overhead to line up with the runways. Gates 1-2 are good for launches to the North, providing you have a nice lens to bring the action close. Gates 6 and past are good for launches to the North, most aircraft are climbing fast but some do bank hard after launch over these spots. During heavy lifting excercises(MAFEX), the rear lots of the speedway to the north are good spots also.
Just before the Speedway there are also good spots, they are on the west side of Las Vegas Blvd. across from the base and is across from an area used by the base helicopters.
To find out where to go on the day you want to watch, I usually start at Cheyenne and go from there. I choose not to spot with a scanner, I like the thrill of the surprise, so I start there then move once I observe the base activities for the day.
What are the best hours to spot?
The base is active 24hrs a day. The best times to spot at Nellis is during a Red Flag exercise.
Visit the NOTAMs website for flying info at Nellis. The ICACO code is KLSV.
The Nellis Air Force Base website also updates flying operations as needed.
Cheyenne Avenue – N 36.218276,W -115.05621
Nellis MeadowsPark on Cheyenne – N 36.218068,W -115.065351
Las Vegas Blvd. Local #1, across from helicopter pads – N 36.252649, W -115.034194
From location #1, the other locations near Las Vegas Motor Speedway are obvious.