You don’t happen to see a Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a F-16 unless you visit Area 51. Here are the amazing photographs taken near Groom Lake, on Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. election day.
The photographs in this post were taken from Tikaboo Valley, near Groom Lake, Nevada, by Phil Drake, who was lucky enough to observe a Su-27P Flanker-B dogfighting with an F-16, presumably one of the four Groom Lake based -D models in the skies of the famous Area 51.
Although the quality of the pictures is low (the aircraft were flying between 20K and 30K feet) they are extremely interesting since Flankers operating from Groom are not a secret (they have been documented in 2003 – 2004 and more recently between 2012 and 2014) but have rarely been photographed.
Here’s Phil’s report of the rare sighting:
“The date was November 8th, US election day, and the sighting was between 1500 and 1525.
I was visiting Nevada hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the latest defense programmes being tested.
On the Monday and Wednesday, Nellis Aggressor F-15s and F-16s were regularly overhead, dropping flares and sonic booms. It was Tuesday afternoon when the skies went quiet for a couple of hours, and I hoped this may be a sign of something unusual being flown.
Eventually the sound of jet noise caught my attention, and I scanned the clear blue skies ’til I saw the tiny speck of an approaching military jet at high altitude, leaving an intermittent contrail.
It was instantly recognisable as a Russian built Sukhoi 27 Flanker, and carried no national insignia or identifying marks.
I took my camera out and photographed the ensuing dogfight between the Flanker and a F-16. The sortie seemed to consist of a head on intercept, conducted at descending altitudes from 30 down to 20 thousand feet, and after each intercept a turning dogfight ensued after they had flashed past each other.
The highly manoeuvrable Flanker was a single seat version, a Su-27P, and it pulled out all of its best moves to get behind the F-16.
I watched in awe as the pair fought it out for 25 minutes before they both climbed to altitude and flew back into Groom Lake restricted airspace.
My scanner remained silent throughout the whole encounter.”
What they were testing is difficult to say. We can’t even be sure the Flanker was one of those reportedly flown from Groom or a privately owned one rented to perform some sort of testing. So all we can say is pure speculation.
It was a daylight operation therefore, unless they were trying to assess the visual appearance of a Su-27 in standard Russian Air Force scheme under a specific angle at a certain altitude and so on, it was, most probably, something not related to a “black project” that would be carried out at night, when spotters (that have become a common presence around Area 51 and Tonopah Test Range) would find it hard to ID the types involved and understand what’s happening.
The daylight dogfight could be related to testing of a specific pod and sensor against a type of aircraft usually replicated by the Aggressors when involved in Red Flag exercises: the F-16s of the Aggressors Squadrons replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignas of their near peer adversaries. In 2014, Lt. Col. Kevin Gordon, 64th AGRS commander, explained the Su-27 Flanker was the type of aircraft they replicated when attacking a Blue Forces F-15 in what was the first time the Flanker was mentioned as an enemy aircraft.
Anyway, the U.S. armed forces have been operating MiG and Sukhoi jets for decades.
In the late 1960s, CIA, U.S. Air Force, Navy and several other agencies were involved in highly classified programs whose purpose was to evaluate MiG fighter jets and study the best ways to face them in air-to-air combat.
Among these programs, “Have Doughnut” was aimed at exploiting a MiG-21 Fishbed-E that the U.S. acquired in 1967 from Israel that had obtained it in Aug. 1966, when an Iraqi Air Force pilot flew it in Israel during a training sortie that was actually a pre-arranged defection.
Have Doughnut saw the MiG-21, using cover designation YF-110, fly over Groom Lake against F-4, F-105, F-111, F-100, F-104, B-66, RF-101, RF-4 and F-5 during offensive and defensive missions that gave the evaluation team the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the U.S. air combat tactics.
Half a century after “Have Doughnut” some Russian planes, in this case a camo Su-27, are still used for some sort of testing and training in the U.S.
By the way be sure to visit Phil Drake’s blog at http://area51trips.blogspot.co.uk.
Image credit: Phil Drake