These crazy photos show a Russian Su-27 Flanker dogfighting with a U.S. Air Force F-16 inside Area 51

Jan 06 2017 - 30 Comments

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.

The F-16 (bottom – highlighted) and the Su-27 are flying against each other. Both are on a left hand turn.

The two aircraft get closer in the merge.

The two jets almost overlap: the Su-27 is farther, the F-16 is closer to the camera.

The two jets continue to turn as they try to reach the “enemy” 6 o’clock

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.

Su-27 turning left

Bottom view of the Su-27

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.

Su-27 turning towards the camera.

Can you ID what pod is this Su-27 carrying?

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.

Su-27 side view.

By the way be sure to visit Phil Drake’s blog at

It has some of the Sukhoi pictures, and also some of a Groom Lake MiG-29 taken in 2009!

Su-27 and the Moon


Image credit: Phil Drake



  • Umer Hamid

    wow, just wow.

  • leroy

    I’ll answer the question that all of you are probably asking – who won? Well, the F-16 easily bested the Su-27. Truth be told this happens all the time. Russian fighters just can’t cut it against American ones, and this has been proven in actual combat by both the Israelis and Iranians (F-14). The U.S. mostly knows this from exercises like Red Flag, but we also beat the hell out of the Iraqi Air Force during the PG war. The buggers just ran away!

    • Iraq never had Su-27, only Su-25

      • leroy

        I never said they did.

        • What were you comparing then? You were writing about F-16 vs Su-27 and then about Iraqi AF.

          This way you can compare F-16 with IL-2, lol.

    • Jack

      Also because the USAF has stollen Russian jets durring the cold war & tested them at groom lake to see what they are up against. Theft of Russian jets helped America to develop allot of the 4th gen jets still in use like the F15 & F16.

  • Vincent Vagner

    Yes, I found this awesome, too. Red Eagles have got descendants with these 4th gen russian fighter.

  • franciwzm

    Nice but not only flankers, even su-35, would be happy to get wvr with something not flying faster and higher like f16 : R77 sucks and is scarce in numbers while even an f16 block40 would rely most on amraam; even on typhoon, Iris-T is more a defensive weapon then an offensive one…Dogfight is a good option or best hope for inferior fighters only, or fighters without decent bvr missiles, such as all russian planes…What I ask myself : russian did not build a fighter with decent supersonic envelope, ideal platform to launch bvr missiles,such as old delta mirage 2000, because: they know they had not decent bvr missiles or because they hadn’t expertise in flyby wire controls and materials.

    • Pepe Le Cox

      How you know that R-77M sucks? if there is no evidence of use in real combat?

      • franciwzm

        Russian themselves say it is not a reliable missile and seldom equip it with flankers; furthermore specs of both radar and range sucks, despite beeing heavier then amraam; furthermore war is boring recently posted an article enlightening very scarse number of R77 in russian arsenal…Russian must rely only on R73, that is a wvr missile…

  • Uniform223

    Seriously cool beans!
    Have Doughnut was the precursor to Constant PEG. I wonder however if this is the predecessor to Constant PEG.

    *looks around and waits for sukhoi fan boys to show up*

  • iMowLawns4Cheap

    Cool, would be nice to know which one was the better fighter.

  • Mongee Phase

    Awesome pictures but video would have been golden.

  • WaldoPepper

    Probably the surplus Ukrainian SU-27 sold by Pride Aviation some years ago.

  • Al

    The US 4477th TES has been operating quite a number of Soviet/Chinese aircraft for decades, but I believe this is the first time there has been a confirmed sighting of Su-27s.

    They must’ve paid a hefty price to the private owners of the Su-27s.

  • Pepe Le Cox
    • Uniform223

      and how many Mig-29s shot down US or NATO aircraft?

      I have the answer for you… ZERO

    • Holztransistor

      leroy is just a sofa warrior. No real pilot would be talking like he does. And if they would read his comments it would result in this: *facepalm*

  • Tostik

    No! This is obviously a captured alien space fighter dog fighting an F-16. :-)

  • leroy

    Yeah – that BS story about an Su-24 shutting down the Cook’s AEGIS is about as believable as the part where – what was it, supposedly 24? – American sailors and Officers resigned after the “incident”. It neither happened. You can’t be that gullible!

    As for Russian fighters, they lag behind U.S. fighter technology by about 2 – 3 decades and have for a long time. Why they don’t even have an operational stealth fighter – something the U.S. fielded in the 1970s (F-117). PAK FA/T-50 is not only unstealthy, the Indians have let out that it is an underperforming piece of junk. No comparison to the F-22 and F-35.

    Let me make this perfectly clear. The U.S. would sweep the skies of Russian fighters in 2 – 3 weeks. Our F-22s alone could destroy the entire Russian Air Force. It’s a lopsided joke! F-35s would take out any SAM systems like S400, S500 or Buk-M3. Pantsir would also go up in a ball of explosive flames! Stop living in the past. This isn’t 1941 – 45 anymore.

    • Daniel Martin

      Judging by your immature reply, i am now absolutely convinced that you are a kid about 15-16 years of age, and by that i find this conversation to be a total waste of time.


    • Holztransistor

      Riiiight. The F-117 was flying for the first time in 1981. But of course leroy knows it better.

      • leroy

        There’s lots you don’t know and will never know about the F-117 program. We had stealth aircraft flying way before 1981.

  • Uniform223

    “I would recommend you to read about the Donald Cook incident, that occurred in the Black-See on the 12 th of April 2014, and see for yourself, how a Russian Navy SU-24 and it’s electronic suite aka the “Khibiny” turned off the entire AEGIS system on the destroyer and render it totally useless against the fighter-jet, for well over an half an hour.”

    > For a SINGLE aircraft to be able to do that, its jamming power must have an output equal to that of a NUCLEAR POWER PLANT that can power the entire city of Las Vegas Nevada 4 times over. The fact that you believe that hoax says much about your understanding of the subject.

    • James R. Mantalas

      EF 111

  • Jack

    Should have gotten video of it. Such a rare event should be captured on video. If all you have at the time is a camera capable of only photography (which is starting to become rare these days as cameras even with super lenses are capable of video as well as photography) I can understand.

  • Daniel Martin

    Yeah right and you and your buddies up there are self proclaimed source reliability masters? Besides what did you think the U.S Navy would go out and say “hey we just got totally punked by the Russians in the Black Sea and they shut us down like a tv set”?? As a mather of fact there is loads of information about this on the internet from numerous different sources, set away your pride for a moment and you may actually learn something, as the fact that there are nations out there that in some military areas are more then a match for the U.S military. But in order to understand that you first have to climb down from your high horse and get rid of the assumption, that the U.S is better in every field of military science then any other nation, this assumption is nothing else but wishful thinking. And just to prove you are wrong i will provide you with a higly respectable former military analyst explanation about the myths and truths about the US and Russian military’s! Enjoy

    • JaM

      Chibiny is a jammer pod against BVR missiles, plus, it cant be even fitted on Su-24M… as its for Su-34… and base laws of physics probably also dont tell you much, because trying to jam the destroyer’s radar, is like trying to overtone Metallica concert with an iPhone on speaker…

  • Jack

    I hear the F-16 won the fight. In all fairness the SU-27 would more than likely beat the F-16 in a real fight. The SU-27 is faster has better radar & armaments than the F-16. As much as I love US military air craft the SU-27 is superior compared to the F-16. The SU-27 pilot was probably just going easy on the F-16 pilot or lacked the full skill of a real Russian SU-27 pilot & they were using lazer tag like weaponry to fight. A real fight between an American F-16 pilot & a seasoned Russian SU-27 pilot may have ended differently especially if they were using live rounds in both jets. The SU-27 going against an F-15 or F-22 might be a more equaly matched fight depending on how good the American & Russian pilots are.

  • KEK

    “I would recommend you to read about the Donald Cook incident”

    So basically Russia Stronk?!?! You do realize that the site you posted as “evidence” screams “Russian Bias” correct? For some odd reason, Westerners tend to love reading about how great Russia is from dubious sources making dubious claims about the greatness that is Russia.