This is what happens after dark in the sky over Coyote Summit, near Area 51, in Nevada, during a Red Flag.
Coyote Summit is a place in the Nevada desert just south of the small town of Rachel, adjacent to Area 51 and the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), which offer a privileged spot point to observe and hear military air traffic involved in Red Flag exercises.
As already reported, night operations experienced from the same crests, may provide an usual but extremely cool view of the many fast jets and supporting assets flying CAP (Combat Air Patrol), Interdiction, Deliberate and Dynamic Targeting, SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), Combat Search and Rescue missions foreseen by the world’s most realistic and famous war games.
Few days ago, during RF 15-3, The Aviationist’s contributor and photographer Eric Bowen travelled again to Coyote Summit to observe some after dark flying activities.
Here’s the report he wrote for us to give our readers a firsthand account of what it is like to experience Red Flag night ops in the Nevada desert:
Near Area 51, as the last traces of light fade on the horizon, the deep rumblings of military jets are just becoming audible, far to the south.
Barely visible above the south-eastern horizon, blinking lights multiply as more and more aircraft take to the sky.
Before long, the first wave of Blue Team, far overhead, pushes north and west. Within moments, a powerful sonic boom crashes across the desert. Jet engines thunder from every direction. Against the starry night, afterburners draw faint blue arcs as planes maneuver and evade.
Once the Red Team’s air defenses have been neutralized, the Blue Team’s Strike Eagles rocket by keeping under the radar as they head towards their targets. IR countermeasure flares burn intensely bright but brief lives, in an effort to save real planes from imaginary heat-seeking missiles.
Little more than an hour after the first planes shoot overhead, the fight is nearly over and the last few planes depart south, back the way they came.
A few minutes later the steady thump of helicopters can be heard to the north. It’s not long before a pair of totally blacked-out HH-60s make a rapid low-level exit from the battlefield and head south as well.
That second night’s mission was Dynamic Targeting, in which the enemy is mobile, and the mission’s goals change by the minute. Many elements must seamlessly work together in order to accomplish the major objective, the capture of a “High Level Target.”
Presumably, the pair of HH-60s that flew by had just acquired that target and the mission was a success.
The rumbling of the distant aircraft fade out entirely, leaving the desert completely silent once again, except for the crickets that is.
Eric spent some nights at Coyote Summit filming Red Flag ops at night. Here is a fantastic video he has produced for us:
Eric Bowen currently resides in Las Vegas where he pursues photography, and especially aviation photography, to the point of obsession
zoom zoom USAF 72-76