Stealth Chasers

COAP USA West: November 2022

Stephen Baldwin reports on the COAP West EW in November 2022!

Stephen is a die-hard Aussie, whom donned his famous shorts and joined the COAP trip for the Nevada section of this amazing two-week trip. Here's his take on the second week!

2022 USA Trip with The Centre of Aviation Photography (COAP)

In 2022 with restrictions from Covid-19 being lifted around the world and a desire to leave Newcastle, NSW, Australia Iset out to investigate potential options. The first was a trip to Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia for theRoyal Australian Air Force Exercise Pitch Black.  I had signed up to the Centre of AviationPhotography (COAP) who do aviation inspired tours newsletter.  They have branched out to other areas which included Adobe Lightroom Course etc.

Before these two trips I did a quick two and half day road trip to RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland to try and captureUSAF B-2 Spirits that were operating there in July/August 2022.

One of the COAP tours mentioned which caught my attention was a trip to the United States of America for Nevada andCalifornia.  The trip was to include theAviation Nation Air Show at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada and some low-level photography in California.  There was also another trip to Arizona which would include a trip to PIMA Air and SpaceMuseum, air to air photography and low-level photography.  Depending on timings depended on which one would run first.

The schedule came out and the trip I decided to do was scheduled from Friday 4th November 2022 untilSunday 12th November 2022. Arranging time of work and flights began.  I decided to arrive in Las Vegas on the 31st October 2022 to do some photography at Nellis Air Force Base prior to the start of the tour.

I left Sydney, NSW, Australia on the 31st October 2022 for Las Vegas, Nevada, USA arriving on the 31st October2022.  Travel from Sydney, NSW, Australia to west coast of the USA means depending on the time of the departure the day can be a very long day.  Ie I left Sydney at 10:45 am on the 31st October and arrived at Los AngelesInternational Airport at 5:30 am on the 31st October 2022.

The week prior to Centre of Aviation Photography tour I photographed at Nellis near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  The flex departure is an awesome sight to experience and photograph you just need to make sure to get the right gate at the speedway.  The location also allows you to see Police driver training that occurs at the speedway.  The location allows you to capture that amazing Nellis backdrop for both departures and landings.  Arriving early allowed me to photograph aircraft training out of Nellis that I rarely see and capture some of the arrivals for the Aviation Nation Air Show. Some of the aircraft I photographed were the mirrored F-22, Aggressor F-35A, USAF F-16 Aggressors, B-1 Bomber and practice of the USAF ThunderbirdsDisplay Team.

On Friday 4th November 2022 I returned my rental vehicle.  I was walking down E Craig Road and had the 4 ship Thunderbirds fly low level over my head during their practice display for military families for the Air Show on the Saturday and Sunday.  This was an awesome experience.

My nerves began to grow as the arrival of the tour group from Arizona drew closer. I had not travelled on a tour since 2012.  I mostly travel solo for most of my travels.

The tour group consisted of Rich Cooper and Steven Comber from COAP, three from UK, one from the Netherlands, one from Canada and a newbie from Australia who was on his first COAP tour.  We travelled in two separate cars for flexibility and comfort.

Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th November 2022 - Aviation Nation

Aviation Nation is a large Air Show held at Nellis Air Force Base held over two days and it is free entry.  It has options to buy seating if you desire.  It was the last show for the Thunderbirds for2022.  The Thunderbirds are based at Nellis.  It would also be the last show for the current F-22 Display Team Pilot callsign Cabo.

You park at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and catch shuttle buses to the show. This ran smoothly.  On arrival at the show, I bumped into a mate from the US who I last saw at Nellis during my ill-fated 2020 trip where Covid-19 changed my plans and cut it short.

The tour group was allowed to do their own thing.  I found a couple of locations and chatted to a couple of photographers on both days.

This year’s show included the US Navy Growler Legacy Team flying the E/A-18G Growler, US Navy West Coast Rhino Demo Team flying the F/A-18F Super Hornet, USAF F-22 and F-35 Display Team, Heritage Flight, Combined Arms Demonstration, Aftershock Jet Truck, T-33 with the Thunderbirds closing the show to name a few.

These were such awesome displays to see. The Combined Arms Demonstration was such a target rich environment.  It was hard to choose which aircraft to follow especially on the Sunday where it was a flare fest.  The combined arms demonstration included A-10Cs, F-15Es, F-35As, F-16Cs (aggressor and non aggressor), F-22 and HH-60 helicopters.

This was my first time seeing the Thunderbirds show and pre-show.  The pre-show was interesting to watch and is all part of the overall Thunderbirds experience.

The show was also a merchandise-hunter dream come true.  If you are into patches, t-shirts, caps, coolers, challenge coins etc you could easily go broke with numerous Squadrons, Display Teams and Units selling them.

I enjoyed the show immensely and put the camera down to enjoy the non-military displays. This is another show I would love to return to.  One downside saw my wide angle lens fail after many years of loyal service, sadly for me I failed to take a backup.

Monday 7th November 2022 – Las Vegas, Nevada to Tonopah, Nevada.

The show was done, and it was time to road trip through Nevada and California...

We left Las Vegas to explore the Extraterrestrial Highway (Nevada State Route 375) on the way to our first destination of Tonopah, Nevada.  Along the way we would stop at The Alien Research Centre, and other local folklore legends.  This is where my 2022 travel bad luck hit, I tripped and landed heavily on my right arm. The pain was immense, but thankfully over the week it would not hinder to a large degree my involvement with the trip. I was concerned that my injury would ruin the trip for the others so lived with the pain.  Thankfully it was only swelling and my photography fingers and thumb on my right hand were still in working order.  

We also stopped at the Black Mailbox, the gate to Area 51, Little A ’Le’ Inn at Rachel along the way to Tonopah where we stayed at Mizpah Hotel, which is apparently haunted.

Tuesday 8th November 2022

We were fortunate enough to meet up with Boneyard Safari and capture the departure F-117 Dark Angel from Tonopah to the Pima Air and Space Museum located in Tucson, Arizona. This was such an awesome experience following and photographing the F-117.  Later that day we would visit the town of Goldfield which is short distance from Tonopah and has the International Car Forest which is a unique experience.  Mother nature would bring snow to Tonopah that night and road closures and use of snow chains on vehicles on some roads in the area.

Wednesday 9th November 2022

We left for a sunrise shoot at the International Car Forest at Goldfield. This decision would work out well as it allowed enough time for the road between Tonopah, Nevada and Lone Pine, California our next destination to be cleared and no need for snow chains.  The drive between Tonopah, Nevada and Bishop, California took us through some beautiful snow-covered mountain areas. For this Aussie who lives a long distance from the snow and is more accustomed to beaches than snow, seeing this was such an awesome experience.

We arrived in Lone Pine and went hunting for low-level aviation action  in the low-level area called Sidewinder.  We were lucky to capture F-15Cs from the USAF California Air National Guard, USAF F-16D, US Navy F-35Cs, US Navy E/A-18 Growler and F/A-18E Super Hornets.  There was an opportunity to climb, but my injury meant I was unable to.  I photographed from the ground, but I was still able to capture aircraft landlocked.

Thursday 10th November 2022

We headed out early hunting low-level jets and were not disappointed.  The F-15Cs returned and along with them a bit of colour.  They flew to the west and we were able to capture them with the Sierra Nevada Mountain range in the background with the exception the coloured aircraft, which flew close to our location.  If I was higher, I may have been able to capture her with the Sierra Nevada’s in the background.  While disappointing not to capture it against the snow-covered mountains, it was an awesome experience to capture this aircraft none the less.  We would also capture three US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets; two would go behind us while one would pass in front allowing us to capture the aircraft against the beautiful back drop.  Two F-15’s would make a pass later in the afternoon as well.

If you plan to try and capture aircraft in Sidewinder near Lone Pine California, you need to be aware low flying is not guaranteed.  You show up and hope for the best, if not the country side is beautiful. My suggestion would be to visit in either spring or autumn due to the heat.  The area we photographed from was extremely rocky, so the right gear is important. It also provides plenty of hiding opportunities for snakes in the warmer months.  You also do not need to climb.  I was able to capture the photos without the need to climb up high.

We then left the low level area and visited Rainbow Canyon to pay our respects to the pilot who lost his life there and a trip to Panamint Springs.  Aircraft are no longer permitted to fly low level through the canyon.  The road had been closed from Panamint Springs to Death Valley for sometime due to a major weather event where the road was destroyed in some sections and requiring major repairs.  Panamint Springs was very quiet from the last time I visited in 2020 and hopefully when the road is repaired life will return to this nice little stop over.

That evening the group had the option to stay at the hotel or do an Astro photography shoot.  I decided to stay in and let the arm rest.

Friday 11th November 2022

Today was Veterans Day.  We headed out early for a sunrise shoot in the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, we then headed to Bishop and surrounds to photograph several landscape locations.  At our first stop in the snow, it was decided to throw snowballs at the Aussie... for a bit of fun which I was happy to participate in.  Mother Nature would have her say on how this day would pan out with a huge dumping of snow causing road closures to areas we would like to explore.  The plan was to finish the day with a sunset shoot at Mono Lake, California, but snow and a temperature inversion ruled it out.  It was a fun day to spend in the snow even wearing t-shirt and shorts.  It was not that cold.  

Saturday 12th November 2022

I was up early and head out with Steven Comber and Rich Cooper to photograph the sunrise in the Alabama Hills, this time chasing the blue hour, as well as the pink glow from the sunrise on the snow covered Sierra Nevadas. The rest of the group chose to have a well earned lie-in.  This was an awesome experience and a change from capturing sunrises along Redhead Beach, Redhead, NSW, Australia which I am more accustomed to.

We left Lone Pine for China Lake,California and Las Vegas., Nevada.   We headed to the hangar that was used in the Top Gun Maverick movie, then on to the China Lake Museum.  

This museum for someone from Australia and who photographed and loved watching F/A-18A & B Hornets; had an F-18A test aircraft on display. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturdays and is in the process of setting up new displays.

The day ended with us returning to Las Vegas and a trip to Elephant Rock in the Valley of Fire State Park for a sunset photo shoot.

Sunday 13th November 2022

The last day of the tour saw Steve and Rich head out for a sunrise shoot at Elephant Rock, for the rest of the group and I, we chose to sleep in and pack.

We visited Henderson Executive Airport, Las Vegas International Airport and Boulder City Municipal Airport.  The group were after that unique city scape photos from Las Vegas International and on the visit to Boulder we saw a Blackhawk Helicopter on a low loader.

After visiting the airports, we headed to Nelson Ghost Town.  It was an interesting set up and something a little bit different.

It was with some sadness I said goodbye to the group in Steve Comber’s car.  I was being taken to my hotel in the strip before the cars were to be returned.

I was dropped off at my hotel and said my goodbyes to the rest of the group.  Most were flying out on the Sunday, while my departure was on Monday 14th November 2022.

My departure was delayed due to a missed connection at Los Angeles after my Delta flight from Las Vegas was delayed.  Delta put me on a United Airlines flight from LA on the 15th November 2022 with me finally landing back in Sydney,NSW, Australia on the 17th November 2022.  I did not see the 16th November 2022!


For my first COAP trip it was fun.  Meeting Rich Cooper, Steven Comber and ther est of the tour group was exciting and fun. Learning about the variety of photographic opportunities abroad was awesome.  Teaching and driving the group batty about OZ was also fun as well as trying to sell them on visiting Australia for Exercise Pitch Black and New Zealand for Classic Fighters Omaka.  The tour group: especially Paul, was great ina ssisting with my injury.

I would highly recommend the tour, but for me I hope my next COAP tour will include an Air to Air component.  Something I dream to do one day.