Paul Dunn's 2010 blogGAR Entries

NOV 14 2010
Dunny's First Red Flag

Red Flag 11-1 was supposed to be taking place as I write these words, but the exercise was cancelled recently. Apparently tanker support was not available to allow USAFE F-16s to deploy to Nellis, due to operational commitments elsewhere. With the cancellation in mind, it seemed an appropriate time to go revisit my images from Red Flag 10-4 back in July, the first time I had attended this legendary exercise.

Purely by accident I had ended up in Phoenix whilst Red Flag 10-4 was taking place at Nellis AFB, and with Las Vegas being a short flight away I jumped at the chance to attend, especially when Skippy (alias GAR colleague Paul Filmer) informed me that the day I would be in the area was the day of the official media day. To say I was excited is something of an understatement!

After arriving late the night before the media day, I joined Skippy and some of his fellow Red Flag veteran photographers for breakfast just outside the base, doing my best to play it cool and not embarrass myself, in such esteemed company. After a hearty breakfast, it was time to head over the road to the main gate, laden down with several litres of water and suncream to help deal with the extreme heat expected during the day. We boarded the bus for the journey out onto the airfield, and were dropped off at the allotted position between the runways. Despite the early hour the heat was already fierce, tempered only by a fairly brisk wind. We had arrived with plenty of time before the Red Flag launches, but the airfield was active, with F-16s from Hill AFB deployed for Green Flag, along with the Nellis based aircraft all departing before the main event kicked off.

The first Red Flag aircraft to get airborne were the heavies – the E-3 Sentry and KC-135R Stratotankers. With plenty of fuel and endurance, these aircraft departed ahead of the fast jets. Next up were the bad guys – the aggressor F-16s and F-15s which are synonymous with Red Flag. Initially the pace of launches was fairly relaxed, but it soon picked up as the Green Force aircraft got airborne.

Soon departures were taking place from both runways – unfortunately the Pakistan Air Force F-16s departed on the into-sun runway, which made photography slightly tricky, but the other stars of the show, the RSAF F-15S Eagles, departed from more favourable runway. Many of these aircraft were tooled up with inert Paveway bombs, really looking the part.

All too soon the launch phase was over, and it was time to retreat to the shade for a short break before the recoveries began. There was a surprisingly short gap between the last aircraft getting airborne and the first formations arriving back in the circuit. Just like the launch, the recovery started at a fairly leisurely pace before things really started to get busy, with multiple formations returning to base in quick succession.

Presently the appearance of the E-3 Sentry on the approach signalled ENDEX and it was time to head off base for some lunch and buckets of Mountain Dew to attempt to rehydrate!

In the afternoon it was time to get frustrated by “Nellis Rules”, but there were still good opportunities to be had outside the base, initially with departures in the Cheyenne area.

By the time the aircraft returned to base, the light had become glorious for arrivals onto runway 21R. We had by this time moved to the Speedway, an excellent location, albeit slightly frustrating. The aircraft turn finals at different points, so it is never easy to anticipate the best place to shoot from, but once again it worked often enough for shooting to be worthwhile.

Once again, the last aircraft to arrive were the heavies, in this case including an MC-130P from the California ANG, an aircraft which hadn’t flown during the morning mission.

And so it was all over! My first Red Flag experience was hugely memorable and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact it has to go down as my best day’s photography for a long time, and I’ve been lucky enough to have some great days out this year. Nellis AFB is such a legendary place and has an incredible history. There is really nowhere like it, and nothing quite compares to a full scale Red Flag launch!

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