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2009 Articles

SEP 14 2009
Red Flag 09-5

I made the decision to fly to Nellis this time round for a one day visit and, travelling on the back of a night shift this meant a horrendous thirty hour sleepless stretch. As ever though, visiting Red Flag was well worth the hardship!

The late August through September Red Flag was a medium sized affair with seventy six aircraft and foreign participation coming from the UAE and Italian Air Force - the rest of the players being pretty much standard fare for a Flag.

As so often happens at Nellis for Red Flag exercises however there were one or two exceptions to this rule, namely on this occasion participation from Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15Cs based at Westfield. They have just completed their conversion from the A-10 Thunderbolt II and this was also the first Red Flag deployment for the 104th Fighter Wing. I admit to being disappointed that the participating Special Operations MC-130 only flew under cover of darkness as there were no opportunities to photographic these spooky night time operators.

While this was the first time that the United Arab Emirates Air Force have participated in a Red Flag Exercise, the aircraft didn't have too far to travel as they came from the 148th Fighter Squadron based, a relatively short hop away, at Tucson International Airport, Arizona.

A number of UAE pilots did however travel across from home and spent two weeks in Tucson before Red Flag to reacclimatise to the US airspace and procedures. With all of the pilots originally being trained in Arizona the deployment also gave the UAE crews a nice opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their former instructors in Tucson.

Another first, at least for me on the day that I attended, saw their F-16s carrying Paveway IVs - certainly the first time I've ever seen these aircraft loaded with such stores.

Although it was by no means a first visit to Red Flag for the Italian Air Force, 09-5 was the first time they have attended with their AMX ground attack aircraft. A rather unusual collaboration between Brazil and Italy saw the birth of the AMX in 1984, ostensibly to replace the venerable Fiat G-91, with AMX coming into service in 1989. Designed and built by a consortium comprising Alenia, Embraer and Aermacchi, AMX was used extensively by the Italian Air Force in the Kosovo War in 1999, flying 252 missions with no loss.

To maximise the training benefit of their long trans-Atlantic journey they had arrived with ten aircraft in the middle of August to participate in a 'Green Flag West' exercise before flying in Red Flag. The pilots had obviously become well acclimatised to Nellis by the time I visited, as when landing on runway 03L, most were on base-leg within the airfield perimeter. This made them very tricky to photograph and rivalled even the US Navy in the tight circuit stakes!

This was the first time I'd seen AMX up close since watching the prototypes displayed at Farnborough in the UK and, with a slightly squat and rugged appearance, they look not dissimilar to the SEPECAT Jaguar when airborne. The silver bands that you see wrapped around the rear fuselage were not present until the final week of Red Flag, and, at the time of writing, the reason behind it remains a mystery.

As a final note, Red Flag 09-5 was marred by an accident on landing to a USAF E-3. The aircraft's nosewheel collapsed and the airframe was severely damaged by a fire which subsequently took hold. Fortunately the crew were able to exit the burning E-3 and none of them were badly injured.

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