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F-5E 741530 AF 03 is one of the few aircraft to currently wear the once common tan/brown 'lizard' camouflage scheme. The left wingtip weapons rail carries a red ACMI data relay pod, used to transmit flight data for post mission analysis.
© Peter Greengrass
EOS-3 28-70mm K25 125/f7.1
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Naval Air Station Fallon is located in the high desert some 60 miles east of the city of Reno. Established in 1942 for the Army Air Corps, the base was taken over by the US Navy in 1944 and has been associated with tactical training of its aircrews ever since. Current resident units are VFC-13,who fly Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighters in the adversary tactics, or 'aggressor' role, and NSAWC, the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center, who fly a mix of F/A-18A/Bs, F-14As and SH-60Fs.

Since the disbandment of VFA-127 'Cylons', VFC-13 'Saints' are the sole remaining west coast Navy aggressor unit (VFC-12 'Fighting Omars' fly a similar mission for the Atlantic fleet with F/A-18 Hornets at NAS Oceana).

The 'Saints' mission is to provide realistic dissimilar air combat tactics for the carrier air wings as they pass through Fallon for work up prior to fleet deployments. Previously having flown A-4E/F Skyhawks, and for a short time F/A-18A/B Hornets, the unit transitioned to F-5E/Fs drawn from VF-43 'Challengers', VF-45 'Blackbirds' and VFA-127.

The F-5 Tiger II was originally chosen by the US military for this role as a result of its similarity to the abundant MiG-21 Fishbed. Even though many of today's potential threats come from the more capable MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker, the F-5 is still seen as a valuable tool in the training of the US Navy's elite flyers.

NSAWC was formed in July 1996 by the integrating of three commands - Naval Strike Warfare Centre ('Strike U'), Naval Fighter Weapons School ('TopGun') and Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School ('TopDome'). The unit is effectively a post graduate training Center for the cream of the navy's strike aircrews, and is still known as 'TopGun' a name made famous by Hollywood.

F-5E 160794 AF 22 wears a modern variation of the classic 'ghost' aggressor camouflage scheme, widely regarded as the most effective colour and pattern combination for medium and high altitude ACM.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F-5F 840456 AF 30 is a late build two seat Tiger II, one of only two procured by the USAF in FY 84. It now wears a striking two tone grey 'splinter' scheme, and takes pride of place on the VFC-13 ramp. There are currently far fewer scheme variations then was the case when the Navy few A-4 aggressors, when extensive combinations of all 'earthly' (i.e. green and brown) and 'skyish' (i.e. blue and grey) colours were abundant
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F-5E 741568 AF 15 is another ex-Air Force blue/grey Tiger II now proudly serving the Navy. Formerly operated by the 527th Aggressor Squadron at RAF Alconbury, England, this aircraft once provided realistic ACM training for USAFE and NATO fighter aircrews, a role it now serves for the US Navy's pacific fleet air wings.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F-5E 741558 AF 13 is finished in a two tone brown adversary colour scheme. Having recently returned from a sortie, the Tiger II awaits towing to the VFC-13 hangar, and already has a tow bar attached to the nose wheel.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F-5E 741539 AF 05 is a relatively basic twenty-five year old aircraft, yet still highly effective against the more complex Tomcats and Hornets when doing what it does best - dogfighting. All VFC-13 aircraft carry the E and S markings, standing for Excellence and Safety, indicating that the unit has been commended for its mission performance and an accident free record.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F-5E 741545 AF 07, another former charge of the 527th AS at Alconbury, wears a new aggressor scheme, a three tone grey arrangement in a similar pattern to the familiar blue/grey scheme. In the post cold war era, a number of countries who buy their fighter aircraft from Mikoyan-Gurevich pose a potential threat, but VFC-13 still retains the red star of the former Soviet Union as its preferred tail insignia.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
Double nuts' F-5E 721387 AF 00, the blue/grey schemed squadron commander's aircraft, taxies out for a late afternoon training sortie. The Navy Bureau number is a simple adaptation of its former USAF serial, 72-1387, changed following its transfer between services when the Air Force deactivated its specialist aggressor squadrons in the late 1980s.
EOS-5 50mm K25 90/f8
SH-60F 164089 71 is one of four Sikorsky Seahawks operated by NSAWC to simulate Russian Mil Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters. The camouflage is a variation of the tan/brown 'lizard' scheme, with the 'bort' numbers worn in stencilled yellow.
EOS-1N 28-70mm K25 125/f7.1
F/A-18B 161714 00 wears no colourful marks, despite being NSAWC 'Double Nuts'. This aircraft has been operated by 'TopGun' since its days at Miramar. The unit currently operates three twin-stick Bravo models, the others being 161707/01 and 161733/02.
EOS-1N 28-70mm K25 125/f7.1
F/A-18A 162901 41 wears a three shade tan/brown camouflage scheme. Despite not being a specialist adversary unit, NSAWC operates a number of Hornets in traditional and experimental aggressor schemes. This aircraft was previously operated by VMFA-323 'Death Rattlers' at MCAS El Toro before arriving at Fallon via 'TopGun' at Miramar.
EOS-1N 28-70mm K25 125/f7.1
F/A-18A 162891 53 wears a modern three tone grey disruptive aggressor scheme. NSAWC is one of a dwindling number of units still flying the Alpha model Hornet, with most fleet squadrons now operating the Charlie model, and the arrival of the Echo model imminent.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F/A-18A 162890 34 wears the fleet standard low visibility scheme of dark and light compass Grays. The only concession to colour is the small NSAWC 'TopGun' badge worn over the black lightning bolt on the tail fin.
EOS-1N 28-70mm K25 125/f7.1
F/A-18A 162900 47. In early 1999 the unit complement of single seat Alpha model Hornets was twenty seven, with a large proportion having formerly flown with VFA-151 'Vigilantes' at NAS Lemoore, before that units conversion to the Charlie model around 1994.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F/A-18A 162894 wears a newly seen disruptive adversary scheme, believed to be based on the current Russian style camouflage patterns seen on types such as the Su-35 Flanker. The lack of a code applied to the nose indicates a very recent return from the paint shop. The aircraft is also in an unusually 'clean' configuration, with no pylons, fuel tanks or missiles carried.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
F-14A 159873 11 is one of nine Tomcats operated by NSAWC. The imbalance of F-14s to F/A-18s is indicative of the diminishing role of the Grumman 'swing wing' fighter in the post cold war era, where multi-role is the order of the day. All the Fallon based F-14s are Alpha models, with the poorly regarded Pratt & Whitney TF-30 engines. The fact that the Tomcat fleet was only partially upgraded to Bravo or Delta configuration speaks volumes about the Navy's long term plans for the aircraft.
EOS-3 50mm K25 125/f7.1
A-4E 155025 50 wearing an Air-Force style 'snake' adversary scheme, is representative of a previous era of aggressor aircraft. Formerly displayed at Miramar, the 'Scooter' was relocated to Fallon, where it now resides amongst an impressive collection of preserved Navy aircraft.
EOS-1N 28-70mm K25 125/f7.1
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The resident units probably have as many non standard paint schemes on one ramp than the rest of the Navy and Marine Corps put together. In these days of low visibility schemes, the Fallon ramp is a photographer's dream, especially when presented with crystal clear Nevada skies.

For further information and photographs taken at Fallon, point your browser towards the excellent Tailslides Photography website, but not before checking out our pictures!

Report:Tim Hunter
Photos:Peter Greengrass & Tim Hunter
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