2010 Articles

MAY 04 2010
Red Flag 10-3

The annual International Society of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) symposium was held this year in Las Vegas, NV and, as I planned be at Nellis for Red Flag anyway, it seemed like a good move to spend the week in the desert to catch up and socialise with friends, some I see often and others only every few years. A good excuse to kill two birds with one stone.

Day one unfortunately was a little overcast with trademark white skies which made photography semi-useless, so the terrible threesome of myself, Richard and Paul decided to do a spot of helicopter hunting. While the rest of the guys messed around with grey jets on a white background we chose to take a leisurely lunch and stalked our prey, ending up with some nice dusk shots.

The next day turned out to be nothing short of fabulous, as blue skies combined with fantastic vantage points. The main attraction at this Red Flag was the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with their F/A-18Cs, which had the notable effect of deflecting everyone's attention from the six F-111s which were just across the border sitting at China Lake, CA. (Unfortunately we too discovered this nugget of information far too late!). The lead Hornet unit was 77 Squadron based at Williamstown in New South Wales but, as usual, the aircraft were sourced from multiple squadrons with eight aircraft present.

The Hornets were tanked by civillian contractor, Omega Air Refuelling, for the long journey to Nellis and back, and 160 personnel also arrived in support including JTAC (Joint Tactical Air Controller) crews from 4 Squadron which is also based at Williamstown. Surprisingly F/A-18C A21-47 was still sporting its high visibility tail which commemorates 20 years of Hornet service with the RAAF from 2008 - this was obviously a welcome addition to the normal grey aircraft, at least from a photographic standpoint.

Four B-1B aircraft were also present from Dyess AFB, TX, and for each launch they used two aircraft, departing and landing as a pair. On each recovery they would come over the field together and perform a fighter break to land. These were very tight and very close for such large aircraft, showing off their manoeuvrability to great effect and mostly landing right (sunset break) for 21L, much to the appreciation of the photographers stationed at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The B-1s now carry sniper pods, seemingly as standard, and there is talk of them being equipped with air-to-air missies as well which would certainly put them top of the league as the biggest fighter flying. Judging by the way the pilots throw them around the sky when landing, they are certainly beginning to act more like fighters anyway!

On day three I decided to skip a talk at the ISAP hotel to catch the Red Flag recovery, but yet again a weird dark sky and high winds made shooting extremely tricky with very few keepers, especially as most aircraft were directed towards the frustrating sunrise break side of the airfield. The few keepers were mostly when the jets found themselves appear in a patch of blue sky for a second or two, before going back in to grey on grey conditions.

Day four was spent at the northern EOR and again the sun decided to make a welcome appearance. The F-16CJs from Shaw AFB, SC again filled the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) role for the exercise and were, yet again, out of bounds for photography on the ground. They were the first to arrive at the EOR and seemed to take forever being prepared for flight, although this probably just seemed longer as we were basically willing them away so we could actually photograph them! The Shaw unit has participated at the last couple of Red Flags but more recently been very touchy regarding photography, although the only external change that any of us noticed was a new antenna on their aircraft.

Another welcome splash of colour came from one of the EA-6Bs from VAQ-209 "Star Warriors" based at NAF Washington D.C., also performing the SEAD role, the aircraft sporting a glossy black tail and a sinisterly lit Darth Vader helmet. A single EC-130 from Davis-Monthan, AZ completed the SEAD force and unusually flew during the day which made a welcome change.

Joining in the interdiction role alongside the RAAF F/A-18s and USAF B-1Bs were F/A-18s of the US Marine Corps from MCAS Beaufort, SC, (VMFA-122) and Harrier GR.9s from RAF Cottesmore in the UK. The Harriers did something I've never seen them do before at Nellis, which was to taxi side-by-side in pairs along the thin taxiways past the EOR, so close in fact that we had to move further back than usual as the boundary line was basically being taxied on by the nearest aircraft!

The escort role was filled by F-22As as has been the norm of late, but this Flag marked the first appearance of aircraft from Holloman AFB, NM, and the new 49th Fighter Wing. A couple of their aircraft still displayed AK tail codes as these aircraft have been arriving from Alaska to fill the new fleet at Holloman, while Elmendorf AFB receives newly built aircraft. Further Red Flag 10/3 participation came in the shape of A-10Cs, all the way from Spangdahlem in Germany and, as is usual for the A-10s, they made some real sporty approaches when recovering.

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2010-05-04 - Paul Filmer
Thanks and no idea how the A-10 got like that Steve. The aircraft was performing sorties so obviously wasn't "impacted" by the damage, although at the speed they fly it wouldn't affect the aircraft aerodynamically. Just a beat-up work-horse I suspect.

2010-05-04 - Steve Coe
Interesting article Paul with some great photos. Any idea what caused the damage to the A10 nose, looks in a right mess!

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