Nellis Air Force Base hosts Aviation Nation, one of the biggest and best air shows on the West Coast. Just a short half hour drive from downtown Las Vegas, Nellis AFB serves as home to the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration Team. It is here at Nellis that the Tbirds put on their season finale, and where air show fans can get their last fix before the long winter doldrums set in.
I created separate category pages for easier loading. It really was a spectacular show. Besides the headliner Thunderbirds, there was a F-22 Raptor demo, a Combat Search and Rescue demo, a F-18 demo, F-4 demo, Vietnam downed pilot rescue demo, various Heritage flights, Warbirds including B-25s, P-51s, P-40, a host of trainer aircraft, the Air Force Reserves Jetcar, and a various aerobatic and parachute acts.
Nikon D300 w/ 150-500mm Sigma OS lens, D200 w/ 18-105mm VR lens - Bernard Zee
I had flown to Vegas (instead of the insane 10hr drive each way) with the intention of photographing both the Saturday and Sunday air show. Unfortunately, although I got to shoot a great Saturday show, I wasn't allowed to photograph the Sunday one. What happened? Bright and early Sunday at the Las Vegas speedway security check (and I was Johnny on the spot, right when they opened - no lines), I was told that due to 'security concerns', those without a media pass could not bring in cameras with longer than a 300mm lens. Of course, there was no such restrictions listed on the Nellis Web Page. Nevertheless, no amount of reasoning, pleading, or speaking to someone else about it helped my cause. My only telephoto I had there was the 150-500mm Sigma Lens, and they were just not going to let me in with it. Orders are orders and all that. Oh, and '...don't shoot the messenger'. Tried to see if there was any way to activate my prior years' media pass, but I was told I needed to go in person on base to the PAO office, but that I can't bring my gear on base until I got a pass - a nice catch 22 situation. Thanks guys. So, I left frustrated, and not in a very kind mood. Sure, I could just go in sans lens - but did I really want to leave my DSLR camera and len$ in the car? No.
Well, it turns out that orders were NOT orders, and the whole thing was in fact, a complete screwup. Didn't find out about it until days (weeks actually) afterwards. But it was officially confirmed that someone, somewhere (no names or positions were provided, or I would be sharing it here) made a mistake about large lenses being a security problem, and issued orders barring entry of such lenses onto the base. This triggered a public relations blunder which became a huge blight on the otherwise wonderfully organized and executed air show and open house. Later that morning, when the Public Affairs (at the main office) learnt about it, they immediately sent 'revised' orders clarifying the issue to the Speedway security checkpoints - but it was too late for those of us who had been turned away.
I got decent coverage Saturday, but I had planned on being there the next day to pick up some other shots and displays. So while I didn't come away empty handed, I have to admit I'm still somewhat bitter about the whole thing. Yes I'm venting a bit, but I'm also keeping my promise to the PAO representatives at the checkpoint that I would be sharing my experiences. So here's it is! :-)
Don't let this deter you from attending in the future though. I've been assured that such a mistake would not happen again. But if it does, ask for the number to the Public Affairs Office from those at the security check. Go ahead and push it on up the chain - something I wish I had done! Do your homework though, and read through the Nellis Web site for their security restrictions what can and cannot be brought in. It's a military base, they have every right to restrict anything they want to. Hopefully, any real changes in their policy will be posted well in advance - so that people can make informed decisions and not be blindsided.
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