report by : Mike Danks
With the first week of Red Flag 17-1 over lapping with the final week of Green Flag – West 17-03, I decided to head to Las Vegas and Nellis AFB. It’s been many years since I have been to Nellis AFB and I was looking forward to photographing the various participants in the first of 2017 Red Flag exercise.
On the Nellis AFB website it states the difference between the two exercises:-
“Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise. Participants often include both United States and allied nations’ combat air forces. The exercise provides aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.”
“Green Flag – West aircraft and crews fly from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in support of ground combat training at the U.S. Army National Training Center in Fort Irwin (Barstow), California”
As I didn’t know what the participants for either exercise were going to be, I was hoping for A-10s and B-1s, as these are rarely seen in the UK. I was lucky enough to have both types, but this luck didn’t hold as there was a large Royal Air Force contingent being involved with Red Flag.
I headed out to Nellis AFB on three consecutive days, two afternoons and a full day on Wednesday 25th January. The Red Flag aircraft mass launch started about 13:00 with multiple movements of Nellis based squadrons and Green Flag aircraft in the morning.
During the morning the movements were mainly from the based squadrons, 57th WG and 53rd WG. These included: –
- F-15Cs and F22s 433rdWPS
- F-16C and F-35A 16th WPS
- F-15Es 17th WPS
- F-16C/D and F-15C/D/E 422nd TES
With light winds on the Wednesday and Thursday the departures were mainly using runway 03L/R, but this wasn’t guaranteed. Parking along North Las Vegas Blvd by the speedway stadium the departing based aircraft break left and head out towards the Nevada Test and Training Range. This is a great sight but it’s difficult with the morning sun making the subjects backlit. Tuesday saw 21L/R being used for departures and arrivals. Using 21L/R is good for photos as the departing aircraft have to turn sharp right to avoid flying over the urban sprawl of North Las Vegas.
One of the main aircraft types that photographers and enthusiasts want to see at Red Flag are the 64th Aggressor Squadron F-16Cs. These aircraft are painted in camouflage schemes identical to those observed on Russian-manufactured aircraft providing Air Combat Manoeuvring training to USAF and other aviation forces in conjunction with Red Flag exercises.
This year’s participants for Red Flag were:-
- RAF Typhoons 2 Sqn based at RAF Lossiemouth, UK
- RAF C-130-30J 47 Sqn based at RAF Brize Norton, UK
- RAF R1 Sentinel 5 Sqn based at RAF Waddington, UK
- RAF KC2 Voyager 10 Sqn based at RAF Brize Norton, UK
- RAF Airseeker 51 Sqn based at RAF Waddington, UK
- RAAF C-130-30J 37 Sqn based at Richmond
- RAAF E-7A 2 Sqn based at Williamtown
- USN EA-18G VAQ-132 ‘Scorpions’ based at NAS Whidbey Island, WA
- USN EA-18G VAQ-134 ‘Garudas’ based at NAS Whidbey Island, WA
- USN EA-18G VAQ-138 ‘Yellowjackets’ (Possibly on loan to VAQ-132 or 134 for the exercise)
- USAF F-35A 388th FW based at Hill AFB, UT
- USAF F-22A 1st FW based at Langley AFB, VA
- USAF F-16C 20th FW based at Shaw SFB, SC
- USAF F-16C 176th FS WI ANG based at Dane County RAP, WI
- USAF F-15C 159th FS FL ANG based at Jacksonville IAP, FL
- USAF B-1B 28th BW based at Ellsworth AFB, TX
- USAF EC-130H 55th ECG based at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
- USAF RC-135V 38th RS based at Offutt AFB, NE
- USAF E-8 12th AACS based at Robins AFB, GA
- USAF KC-135s from 927th ARW, 141st ARW and 22nd ARW
A-10s from the 23rd FW based Moody AFB were participating in Green Flag.
Although bright sunshine on all three visits the wind was biting and I am surprised I didn’t have more blurred photos from shaking! A very enjoyable and productive few days were had at the home of one of the most complex advanced aerial combat training exercises in the world.