144th Fighter Wing Airmen sharpened their skills in air-to-air combat at Red Flag 16-1.
Among the participants in the first of 2016 Red Flags there were also the F-15C Eagles belonging to the 144th Fighter Wing (FW), from Fresno Air National Guard Base, California .
Held at Nellis Air Force base from Jan. 25 to Feb.12 2016, Red Flag 16-1 has represented a unique training opportunity for the 144th FW which took part to the drill along with 30 other units from the U.S. and allied nations. With two scheduled launches daily and thanks to its unique ability to recreate advanced threats in a realistic combat scenario Red Flag is the highest level of warfare training available: “We’re flying both day and night sorties to practice for any real combat environment and scenario that might creep up – it’s a rehearsal for combat” Maj. Ben Leestma, 144th Fighter Wing pilot and Red Flag 16-1 project officer, said.
During the exercise the F-15C drivers assigned to the 144th FW had the chance to play two different roles: Red Air and Blue Air. The main difference between the two, as Leestma pointed out, is that “Red Air replicates a bad guy aircraft, Blue Air replicates us, the good aircraft: typically in an ordinary sortie, the Blue and Red start at opposite ends of the runway, take off and we see who wins.”
But as he explained only the Blue Air side allows to the F-15C pilots to fly “the Eagle to its full capability as far as sensors and missiles go.”
Nevertheless, although Blue Air training is the better training out of the two, a lot of planning and instructions are required to be followed in both Red and Blue Air scenarios, as confirmed by Leestma himself: “The best training is in Blue air, which is what we’re focused on here, but airmanship, flight discipline and safety are all key things that we practice each and every time we fly – Blue Air or not.”
Noteworthy as we have already explained, the Light Grey Eagles (as the F-15C air superiority fighters are nicknamed) are routinely deployed overseas for both training and real operations, where their pilots rely on the skills refined during Red Flag exercises.
Image credit: Senior Airman Klynne Pearl Serrano / U.S. Air National Guard