Air Force releases photo of F-22 stealth fighter with Area 51 base in the background

Tanker rides are among the opportunity provided to media representatives during Red Flag exercises at Nellis Air Force Base.

Every now and then, reporters and photographers are allowed to board U.S. Air Force KC-135 refuelers supporting the Blue or the Red forces.

However, media embarks can be cancelled if the tanker is scheduled to operate inside areas from where sensitive spots could be seen and photographed. For instance, some days ago, photographers initially cleared to take part to a tanker mission were not allowed to board the KC-135 because the tanker was heading towards one of those areas.

Considered the proximity of Nellis Air Force Base to the legendary Area 51, I was almost sure that most (if not all) photo restrictions in place within the Nevada ranges were aimed to prevent someone from taking pictures of the famous, spooky airfield located on the southern shore of Groom Lake.

Until I saw the following image (click to enlarge).

Red Flag 13-3 F-22 Tanker

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo (highlight mine).

It shows an F-22 Raptor from the 1st Fighter Wing/27th Fighter Squadron out of Langley Air Force Base, Va., as seen from a KC-135 Stratotanker during a Red Flag 13-3 sortie on Mar. 5, 2013.

Just above the stealth fighter you can clearly see the salt flat used for runways of the Nellis Bombing Range Test Site airport (KXTA) on the north of the Area 51 USAF military installation.

Let’s make it clear: the above photograph does not add much to all the high-resolution images already available, including some stunning satellite imagery. There’s no sign of stealth planes or extraterrestrial vehicle.

Still, I can’t remember any recent image of a modern U.S. combat plane taken in the vicinity of Area 51 and considered all the photo restrictions in place on Red Flag’s tanker flights, I consider this picture extremely interesting.

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Oh, i’m well aware of the shape of the -22. Been close to enough of them myself. Yea, the ‘step’ of the nose in front of the cockpit was taken into consideration. The pixelation still makes it look off. Makes it look doctored. And I do expect digital photos to pixelate – but why is this only prominent there? Most of the rest of the aircraft has sharp lines in the photo. But there are still other clues. What of the off coloration in the nose area? Why are there no other markings than on the fin? -22s usually have their numbers repeated at the bottom lip of the nose chine. I would also mention something about the lack of a pilots’ nametag, but I have seen -22s with and without them. Not so unusual.

    I’m probably just trying to dig up something that isn’t there. Sorry guys.

  2. This isn’t Groom Lake, even if its photo shop. Next time you are looking at a sat image of Area 51, look just west of Homey and you’ll see a similar base, with run ways that mimic KXTA. Look closely at the location of mounts surrounding, length of runway/direction of. What it looks like based on pics and sat images.

    • IT IS Groom Lake, for sure. I’ve been studying the place for years on documents and Google Earth.

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