Tag Archives: Nellis Air Force Base

What happens after sunset on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base during a Red Flag

A very different perspective.

The sun was dropping quickly towards the Spring Mountains indicating the day was coming to an end. Aircraft spotters packed their gear and disappeared to their hotels for the night. Red Flag aircraft back from their afternoon sorties were parked in perfect order on the flight line and looked bedded down for the night. A relative silence dropped over Nellis AFB, only broken by a handful of non-flag aircraft that were now returning from their sorties, arriving in the final moments of twilight.

A small group of media under Air Force escort entering the flight line first passed the USAF Thunderbirds F-16s, parked with precision – just as they are flown. From a distance the flight line appears to have scores of fighter aircraft jammed together, but up close one quickly notes that everything is in perfect order.

Anxiousness to get as many photos as possible before the light faded is tempered by patience, as process takes priority. Our position on the flight line called in to “higher powers” and verified, we spill from the van with our chaperone – and to the F-15s of the 64th Aggressor squadron. As the sun fades, the moon appears – tearing photographers between aircraft and compelling lighting in opposing directions.

F-15 servicing

Among the F-15C Aggressors, maintenance crews were performing engine and system run-ups, assuring all would be in order for the night launch scheduled in about 3 hrs. In all likelihood the pilots had already assembled for their pre mission briefing elsewhere on the base.

F-15 ground tests

As regular observers know, there is always plenty of non-flag activity on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) and at Nellis AFB. A couple of F-15s return from a non-flag sortie, and taxi to their parking spot mere feet away. No waiting for a gate agent here, they are greeted by crew already in place, jumping into action to assist in the aircrafts shutdown and post flight inspection.

While portions of the flight line may be quiet, this is not one. Ground crews, maintenance groups and ordinance personnel are all busy addressing their responsibilities, the latter moving munitions trailers into place for the evening activity. As the sun sets, we are fortunate to capture F-16AMs from the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) that look as though they are lined up on alert, all the pieces in place for a rapid scramble. Within a few moments, the moonlight illuminates the “Black Widows,” F-16CMs, from the 421st FS, Hill AFB. So many additional units and aircraft go unvisited – as time is passing far too quickly.

RF F-16

We move as quickly as we can about the flight line, but in all cases accountability is rightfully high. Our position is continually reported to base supervisors, and though we are escorted by uniformed personnel, we are stopped multiple times by base or unit security asking to see ID, and the official paperwork verifying approval. Patience and courtesy rule while radio calls are made, verifying we have the required approvals to set foot on this most secure ground. Fortunately, the Public Affairs office left no detail undone – and we are permitted to continue. One might think that once you have permission to enter the flight line – you’re in the clear, yet nothing else could be more wrong. Virtually everyone on the flight line takes responsibility for the security of the area, and rightfully so, it’s very serious business.

RF RNoAF F-16s

While flag aircraft seem asleep for the night, those landing go through a number of inspections. Pilots walk the aircraft, plane captains may be on site, or USAF Aircraft Maintenance Engineers and supporting specialized crew inspect each aircraft after landing to identify any issues that may require attention. Six F-18Es from the US Navy’s VFA-192 Golden Dragons return to base and taxi to their position. The initials “SSHWFGD” adorn the tail…. “Super Shit Hot World Famous Golden Dragons.”

F_A-18E night on the flight line

Another example of non-USAF units utilizing Nellis and the NTTR for their training purposes outside of Red Flag activity. A Naval Aircraft Structural mechanic inspects the F-18Es carefully so he may relay anything that requires attention to the plane captain and maintenance team to address in the morning.

Super Hornet night

The process is impressive and consistent. Inspect aircraft before engine start-up, inspect thoroughly at the EOR (End of Runway) preflight, fly the sortie, return to base, inspect again. Nothing is left to chance, careful stewardship of the aircraft is part of the daily routine.

F-18E Special

Near the EA-6B Prowlers from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, NC a number of SH-60s are attended by crews and fire up, strobes flashing in the night. After a number of minutes what appears to be a team of Special Forces take their place inside, sliding the doors shut in preparation for lift off. A couple more minutes pass while crew members perform their walk around and like clockwork, the helicopters are launched. A young crewman passes by and informs me that it was one of the Seal Teams headed out to the NTTR for pre deployment training.

As launch grows closer we move to EOR and wait as the night cools dramatically. In the relative distance ground crew start to gather near their aircraft, and the white vans carrying pilots arrive. Anticipation builds. This is not a typical practice mission to build hours and keep skills sharp. This is Red Flag where pilots and crew have missions and objectives that will be contested on the “battlefield” of the NTTR. Every action taken will be reviewed upon landing and while there will be “winners” and “losers” all will be learners. It’s as close as they’ll get to going to war – without being in war.

Within a few minutes the noise of jet engines starting breaks the stillness of the night. It is an odd cacophony of sound, banging, even clanking like someone was smashing metal on metal that quickly turns to a groaning and growling finally increasing to an orchestra of constant whine as the engines move to idle. The smell of burnt jet fuel from the 75 or more idling engines fills the air – like a rich cologne to the aviation enthusiast.

The sign of good things to come, a mere couple hundred feet away on the runway, the E-3 AWACS, KC-135 tankers, and JSTARs roar past disappearing into the night sky. The surge of engines breaks the constant whine as F15s and F16s begin to leave their parking spots headed for their final preflight and ordnance checks at EOR.

B-52Hs, carrying any variety of lethal weapons inside taxi into place and roar down the runway disappearing into the night. B-1Bs follow, lighting their burners and with a tremendous roar that redefines power – blast by. The entire earth trembles, and it feels like my insides have been tossed into a blender. Absolutely fantastic! I scream, but no one can hear me – let alone myself. Burners aglow the B-1Bs remain visible for many miles as they climb away range bound. The night had been cool, and as a passing gift the B-1B raises the entire area at least a few degrees. We are thankful for the serendipitous gift of warmth.

60ft away 8 F-15s have lined up wing tip to wingtip for their final preflight and ordnance check. After idling during inspection they pull forward and turn, passing mere feet away, their engines like space heaters giving us one final shot of heat.

The launch picks up its pace as most the aircraft attempt to get in the air at roughly the same time for the exercise. Prowlers, Eagles, Falcons, and others roar down the runway, most (aside from the Prowlers) riding a rocket, afterburners like a propane torch on maximum flame. After scores of launches there remains but the whine of a handful of aircraft that are slated for late launch windows – likely entering the exercise on a specific Air to Ground sortie.

F-16 HL

And then, suddenly the night is quiet, the moon illuminating the base that once again appears asleep. But it is an illusion. Nellis does not sleep, it only rests. Like the slow deep breathing one uses to catch their breath after a great exertion and as preparation for the next sprint. It’s another Red Flag at Nellis and for all the activity seen, like an iceberg, there is much greater activity by the compliment of units and support staff that keep it afloat. As much in life, the visible get the glory and honor, but nothing happens without the countless groups and specialties that work unseen on and off the flight line. Thank you for your service, and for the privilege of participating in it.

Special thanks to MSgt David Miller and A1C Joshua Kleinholz USAF ACC 99 ABW/PA.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.


All you need to know about the latest Red Flag, world’s most realistic aerial exercise

Red Flag 2015-2 featured previously unannounced participants and in a first – virtual participants.

In addition to the variety of USAF squadrons, the air combat exercise held Mar. 2 to 13, 2015 out of Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, NV featured international participation by a NATO E-3, F-16s from the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF), Mirage 2000s from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), T-38s from Randolph AFB, and F-16CMs from Aviano Air Base, Italy. A listing of the scheduled participating units is found in the Air Force release “Nellis AFB Hosts Red Flag 15-2

Beyond what was seen, multiple off site participants were involved virtually in the exercise.

F-16 takeoff SW

Lt. Col Stodick explained that most virtual participants were housed in simulators out of Kirtland AFB, NM and included a complete JSTARs crew sending virtual ground target information that aircrews responded too.

A number of other unidentified units participated virtually, and while the “physical” exercise took place over the 15,000 square mile Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), the virtual component added a much broader dimension to the exercise covering a simulated 1,320,000 square miles.

This combination of Red Flag and Virtual Flag was a first, and is described as the USAFs LVC (Live-Virtual-Constructive) training. The Live and Virtual not only reduces the cost of the exercise it increases the participation, scope and complexity. It is quite an extraordinary training dynamic that utilizes state of the art networking and communication assets to provide the most comprehensive air warfare experience on the planet. More details are captured in an Air Force article “LVC Integration takes Red Flag to the Next Level

B-1 takeoff RF15-2

Each Red Flag has its own flavor, and in this case it was of interest to note that no F-22s were involved, and three US Army Patriot batteries were deployed on the range as part of the Blue Force, with more units deployed “virtually.”

Red Air continues to evolve, with Red Flag 2015-1 featuring F-15E Strike Eagles on Red Air strike missions, and 2015-2 featuring T-38s flying Red Air missions, as well as select missions flown by the B1-B and EA-6B on Red Air. It is anticipated that a Red Air will continue to be supplemented with various active units moving forward. These units will not be required to learn “Red Air” tactics as such (primarily limited to those Red Air assets in the Air to Air role), but will be given familiar mission profiles to complete within the context of representing Red Air.

EA6B Prowler taxi

For those who have enjoyed the F-15Cs with their colorful Aggressor paint, this will likely be the final Red Flag that the F-15C is utilized in the Red Air Aggressor role (many of which had carried over to the 64th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS) after the 65th AGRS was disbanded in 2014).

F-16 AGRS takeoff

The action is certainly not limited to air-to-air and air-to-ground combat units. Rescue personnel participated in the missions with the Guardian Angel, HH-60G, and HC-130 out of Moody AFB, GA. Major Goodale 38th Rescue Squadron described what is typically seen as a rescue role to encompass a much broader mission set of “Prepare, Locate, Support, Recover and Reintegrate US and Coalition personnel.” No doubt flight crews fly with great confidence knowing and experiencing the capability set these specialists bring to the fight. Maintenance personnel are challenged to overcome unique obstacles such as, working with limited spares, adapting to critical equipment that is deemed inoperable or limited access to the aircraft given the base comes under “simulated attack.” The crews must think on the fly to adapt, overcome and achieve their mission.

Tactics continue to evolve, and participants must be calculated and wary about their approach to unfolding situations. A solo F-16C Aggressor was recently “captured” fast and low on the “Blue side” of the range, and it was noted that the aircraft was trying to lure Blue Air into a pursuit to lead them subsequently into a Red Air ambush. Not simply a scripted exercise, innovative, dynamic activity challenges reactions and creates tremendous learning experiences in a safe environment.

Each day hosts a unique scenario, perhaps a response to an international Superpower that seizes a small neighboring nation, defending an attack, addressing a hostage situation, or localized regional conflict initiated by a rogue nation. In any case, the exercises represent the reality of the world that confronts us today.

One of the Red Flag days I visited the NTTR where I witnessed activity that appeared to mimic real world deployments taking place today. Blue Air F-16s in numbers attacked from the east and engaged Red Air over the southern portion of the range. With Red Air controllers calling intercept vectors, B-1Bs flew through contested air on strike missions above 20,000 ft. Missile shots, kill calls, and intercept vectors were continuous. Aircraft had to break away for air to air refueling by one of the orbiting KC-135s, or to regenerate and re-enter the fight. Meanwhile in the north two pairs of UAE Mirage 2000s circled over northwestern ranges in a pattern that appeared to be combat air patrol (CAP). Supported by the UAE Mirage 2000s and just a little further to the north, two B-52Hs from Minot AFB flew racetrack pattern, periodically breaking away for what were likely weapons runs on targets on the northwestern ranges. While the B-52s dropped no live ordnance during Red Flag, they were configured to carry everything from conventional, to smart and stand-off weapons tailored to their specific mission profiles. 90 – 120 minutes of intense action came to an end quietly as aircraft with missions complete returned to Nellis AFB.

B-1 takeoff roll RF15-2

Exercises such as Red Flag bear a close resemblance to the way modern conflicts are addressed, as coalitions involving integration of a broad number of specialized and international assets. In such cases Red Flag training is critical to prepare for such real world deployments.

The objective of Red Flag has been to provide participants with 10 “combat mission” experiences before entering combat, and as such greatly increase the performance and survivability of participants. This approach has demonstrated tremendous success in ensuring US and coalition forces are the best trained, most prepared military forces on the planet.

Special Thanks MSgt USAF David Miller 99th ABW Public Affairs and the entire 99th ABW PA Team.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.



Red Flag 15-1: Simulating Modern Warfare at Nellis Air Force Base

Over the past 40 years the US Air Force-sponsored Red Flag exercise has established itself as the premier integrated air warfare exercise in the world.

The first of 2015’s 4 scheduled Red Flags is taking place at Nellis AFB from Jan. 26 to Feb. 13 with two mission windows (mid afternoon and early evening) flown each day. Each daily mission involves approx. 60-70 aircraft with each aircraft type representing a specific capability set utilized to accomplish the mission objectives.

Forces are divided in Red Air (hostile) and Blue Air (friendly). Red Air is primarily flown by the 64th Aggressor Squadron of Nellis AFB flying F-16s and F-15Cs painted colorfully, and trained specifically to use tactics representing hostile forces. In this particular Red Flag F-15Es from Seymour Johnson AFB, NC also mixed it up by representing strikers (ground attack) flying on the side of Red Air.

F-16 Aggressors

Missions are flown over the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) which covers 12,000 sq. miles of airspace in central Nevada (5,000 sq m restricted range plus the adjacent 7,000 sq m Military Operating Area (MOA).

While Red Flag may have been seen in the past as an international air combat exercise, it is now much more. This exercise represents the cutting edge of training, and as such now includes unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), space assets, electronic warfare, the latest radar systems and cyber security threats. Every effort is made to simulate the known and anticipated tactics of a potential adversary. While difficult for the casual mind to conceive how all these threats are simulated, suffice it to say Red Flag integrates all threats and capabilities in a full on simulated war environment for the war of today and tomorrow. Blue Air receives specific mission objectives to achieve in this dynamic, high threat environment.

F-15C close up

Red Flag 2015-1 included US Air Force, Navy, Marine & Air National Guard units, as well as Participation from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), a roster of participating aircraft and units is available here. While many of the aircraft roles are understood, Flight Lt Andrew North, 1 Air Control Center, RAF Scampton, noted that the RAF Typhoons flew primarily in the “Swing Role” carrying Paveway 4s with the objective to fight their way in, drop their ordinance, and fight their way out.

Typhoon taxi

This is not the first time the RAF Typhoons have carried the Paveway 4s, but it is a recently added capability. The RAF Typhoons also worked on tactical integration with the F-22 Raptors in Air to Air combat versus the Red Air forces.

B-2 Pilot, Captain Brandon “Bloc” Bond, 393rd Bomb Squadron, Whiteman AFB noted that the B-2s were configured to carry virtually any capable weapon (non-nuclear) in their inventory – all the way up to the Master Ordinance Penetrator, the Bunker Busting 30,000 lb GBU-57.

B-2 landing

With two B-2s in the air, a wide variety of ordnance options were available to the Mission Commander to deploy on target, at any given time (though the B-2 itself dropped no live ordinance). Approximately 50% of the Air to Ground (A2G) missions were flown dry (no ordinance dropped) 25% dropped inert ordinance, and 25% of the missions dropped live ordinance on designated range targets.

The mission participation of the RAAF C-130Js was described by Wing Commander Darren Goldie, 37 Squadron RAAF, Sydney, as slipping under the fight to achieve mission objectives. While Red air and ground assets battle at altitude, the relatively large and lumbering RAAF C-130Js fly as low as 250 ft on simulated missions to insert Special Forces, or land on a dry lake bed/unimproved airfield to resupply forward ground units.

Growler closeup

While the missions themselves may last only 90 minutes, the entire time spent in preparation, mission and debriefing equals about 12 hours. The debriefing includes real-time telemetry for review and provides an opportunity to learn from what tactics worked and what did not. The lessons learned in the Red Flag “battle” are taken back to be taught to non-participating squadron units and personnel.

The primary objective of the exercise is “asset & capability integration to achieve mission success.” As described by 1st Lt Paul Heins, Deputy Targets Chief, 547th Intelligence Squadron, Nellis AFB, “we want all participants to experience their first 10 combat mission sorties here at Red Flag, as it will increase their survivability tenfold when involved in fighting real wars.”

F-15C base turn

The integration and communication between units is a vital learned skill. This was captured by Airman First Class Johnelle Walker, 48th OSS Intelligence Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, who identified the greatest value of the exercise as integration, “From the first to the second week one sees the improvement in information sharing. Sometimes we are not beaten by enemy tactics, sometimes we beat ourselves by not sharing information and by not communicating effectively.” Red Flag teaches specialized units that each have unique capability sets to communicate and work together to achieve mission success.

F-15E SJ take off

While some question the cost and value of these exercises one can see them as parallel to a sports team holding “team scrimmages” prior to a championship game. Losing is not an option, and every good team learns how to take what may well be an international assembly of players with a wide variety of skill sets and through intense practice turn them into a championship team. In the case of Red Flag, the objective is to develop a championship war fighting machine. Red Flag ensures our military forces (including our coalition partners) are the best prepared, most capable, and ready forces in the world.

F-16 Lobos landing

Special thanks to the USAF 99th ABW PA MSgt. David Miller and PA Team

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.


Photos of F-35, F-16, A-10, F-15E jets launching from Nellis Air Force Base

Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, is one of the airbases where you can see F-35 Joint Strike Fighters fly.

Nellis AFB, Nevada, is one of the most interesting and busiest airbases in the US. Even outside the Green/Red Flag periods.

Among the several units hosted by the airbase near Las Vegas, there is the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, whose aim is to develop and test new tactics to employ weapons systems in combat.

F-16 422 TES

The unit operates a fleet of A/OA-10, F-15C, F-15E, F-16CM, F-22 and F-35 aircraft.

A-10 take off 03L

Dealing with the Joint Strike Fighter, the 422nd TES is involved in development evaluation and supports the initial operational test to determine how to integrate the F-35 with other assets in the U.S. Air Force inventory.

F-35 take off

F-35 turn and burn

F-35 noise abatement

The images in this post were taken at Nellis AFB in the morning on Jan. 12. They show some of the flying activity on an ordinary day at Nellis, including F-35s, F-16 Vipers and F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 422nd TES (with tail code “OT”) taking off for missions inside the NTTR (Nevada Test & Training Range), as well as the Thunderbirds demo team performing their daily training sortie.

F-35 number 2 belly view

The 422nd TES works closely with the USAF Weapons School, also headquartered at Nellis.

The School’s mission is to teach graduate-level instructor courses, which provide advanced training in weapons and tactics employment to officers of the combat air forces.

The unit has received the first F-35, sporting the typical “WA” tail code, on Jan. 15.

A-10 takeoff

F-15E 422 TES

Thunderbirds practice


RAF Typhoon jets fly over the snow-capped Grand Canyon on their way to Red Flag

RAF Typhoons supported by a Voyager tanker deployed to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas to take part in Ex. Red Flag. And here are a few cool photos of the lead formation en-route.

Last week, the lead formation of RAF Voyager and four Typhoon FGR4 multi-role aircraft deployed to Nellis AFB, near Las Vegas, where they will attend exercise Red Flag.

Typhoons over Gran Canyon no snow

The formation crossed the Atlantic Ocean and went “feet dry” over the U.S. East Coast near Charleston then few across the U.S. the last leg of their 6,000 mile trip to the airbase in Nevada which brought the formation over the Grand Canyon.

Typhoons over Gran Canyon close

The flight over the Grand Canyon National Park provided a unique opportunity for the RAF photographers aboard the tanker to take some stunning images of the snow-capped rims.

Typhoons over Gran Canyon snow

Image credit: RAF/Crown Copyright