Tag Archives: NTTR

Watch C-17, A-10 and HC-130J Aircraft Operate From Delamar Dry Lake Bed (the original emergency landing site for the X-15)

U.S. Air Force landed and took off from the Delamar Dry Lake Bed, the emergency landing site for the X-15.

C-17 Globemaster III airlifters from 57th Weapons Squadron, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 66th Weapons Squadron, HC-130J from the 34th Weapons Squadron as well as HH-60Gs belonging to the 66th Rescue Squadron took part in USAF Weapons School squadrons composite mission application and combat search and rescue operations at the Delamar dry lake bed on the NTTR (Nevada Test and Training Range).

Referred to as “Texas Lake” dry lake bed because of its resemblance to the state of Texas from the air, Delamar Lake landing strip was established in 1943 and, in the 1960s it was designated emergency landing sites for the North American X-15, a rocket-powered, missile-shaped manned aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and NASA capable to reach the edge of space at an altitude between 100,000 and 300,000 feet at speed exceeding 4,500 MPH (+7,270 km/h) .

In fact, the dry lake bed was located underneath the Delamar Dry Lake Drop Zone where the X-15s brought to the launch altitude of 45,000 feet under the wing of a B-52 bomber, were dropped at a speed of Mach 0.8.

The Delamar Lake Landing Strip consists of a 15,000 ft long runway; still, considered the lack of obstacles, aircraft can land in any direction.

Along with making “unprepared landing strip operations” training possible, dry lakes can be particularly useful also in case of emergency: the huge lakebed can minimize the damage to a plane forced to land there. Here is what happened when a B-1 Lancer performed a crash landing on the Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in 1989. Here you can find a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy airlifter making a successful emergency landing once again at Rogers Dry Lake in 2001.

 

Red Flag’s air combat maneuvering as seen from the Nevada Desert

Climb with us to the top of Coyote Summit to see some real Red Flag 17-2 action!

Red Flag is a major event in the military aviation community, known by both pilots, spotters and other fans. In a nutshell, it is the most important exercise in the world, both in terms of realistic training and participating units, and it’s held 4 times a year. It is staged from one of the world’s biggest and most famous airbases: Nellis Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Much has already been written about Red Flag so I won’t come back to the origins, dating back to the Vietnam War; nor will I describe the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR), where the wargame takes place, nor the 64th Aggressor Squadron whose involvement as a realistic opposition makes Red Flag what it is.

Aircraft parked on the apron at Nellis AFB during RF 17-2

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Nevada, during Red Flag 17-2, and watch these machines around the base. The unit panel consisted mainly of F-16C squadrons :

  • the 55th FS from Shaw AFB with few jets from 77th and 79th FS;
  • the Alabama ANG 100th FS with two jets decorated with beautiful red Tuskegee tails;
  • the Colorado ANG 120th FS;
  • RNLAF 322nd sqn F-16s based in Leeuwarden, with some jets from Tucson (with mixed Arizona ANG and dutch markings).

The only other jet players were Spanish Ala 111 with their Eurofighters, supported by KC-130H from Ala 312, and 493rd FS Eagles from Lakenheath.

An Aggressor F-16 about to start “flexing” after take off

After two days of shooting tons of pictures (you can have a glimpse here), and wanting more than take-offs and landings at the base, I was looking for some more action. My plan was to go and see and hear the aerial war in the high desert of Nevada, the natural habitat of these metal birds.

The place is known as Coyote Summit and is a two hours drive from Sin City, heading north. Passing Hancok Summit on the E.T. Highway (also known as US 375), one can see the vastness of the USAF playground. On the left, there’s a trail leading to Area 51, invisible behind a small ridge. Thirty miles ahead is Rachel, and my plan is to stop at a small gap, up the road where most of the Blue players (Blue air are the participant units of Red Flag, while Red air with their Aggressor F-16s simulate the enemy) should fly by, low or high.

Around Coyote Summit

So here I am, on this clear Nevada weather morning, sitting on top of Coyote Summit, a 200 ft hill at the “gate” of the Range (aka the NTTR), and waiting.

This particular place is very well-known among spotters and by noon, we’re 5 people there, chatting about aviation, and catching in a hurry our cameras at every engine sound we hear above the wind.

At around 1PM, things start moving with 2 white pickups driving fast accross the desert south of our vantage point. They’re not going to set up a simulated Roland SAM as we initially believe. They just drop a guy alone in the bushes and carry on their drive and stay in a deep creek 2 miles away. Radio chatter begins, after a long silent morning, between the pickups and some range controller. We understand that they should have gone to “Red gate”, instead of “Blue gate”, but it seems to be a bit late to fix so the guy on the ground will stay there.

At 2:20PM, we hear some tactical comms on the radio: U.S. F-15Cs and Spanish Typhoons are setting up their Combat Air Patrol (CAP), well east of our position. Cylon flight will take New York CAP (should be above Hiko as we see the contrails) and Pulsar flight will go to Alaska CAP, above Worthington Peak.

F-15s contrailing above Coyote Summit

“Vul time” has been delayed because some players are still on the tarmac at Nellis, and now, according to “Words Bravo,” this Vul time is 2245Z (or 2:45PM). And that’s precisely then that we see “the Wall”, formed by 4 F-15Cs and their contrails, pushing west towards the Red players. The opposition is now just a pair of F-16Cs Aggressors. But soon, as the fight develops, more aircrafts from both sides will converge above Rachel and fight at high altitude.

To the merge!

An F-15 during the engagement

Shots are called on the radio, e.g. “Pulsar 1, Fox 3, bullseye 080 10 23 thousand!”
“Copy shot” says a controller, and a few seconds later some voice confirms the shots as kills (“Mig 3 dead”), or misses (“Pulsar 1, shot trashed).

A Spanish Typhoon contrailing at high altitude

The action never stops, some Aggressors come back (“Cylon 3, pop-up single, BRA 250, 15 miles, 26 thousand, regen”), some Blue players get shot, but mostly Red Air gets hurt and regens regularly. Spanish Typhoons and Dutch Vipers drop flares every now and then, calling out “Spike” or “SAM” based on what their RWR gear tells them.

Spanish Typhoons flaring

Plenty of flares were used during the mock air combat training we observed from Coyote Summit.

While these jets fight overhead, sometimes with an impressive double sonic boom, we can hear some choppers approaching low from the southeast.

MH-60 approaching

Two Navy MH-60S from HSC-21 turn for a few minutes before converging toward our lonely guy, not far from us.

I’m as close to the action as I’ll ever be and soon, we hear jets coming for help as the Sandy fighters used to fly in Vietnam. These are 2 F-16Cs from the 120th FS, with their Colorado ANG tails, circling about 1,000 feet above us and protecting what is now clearly a “downed pilot extraction.”

One of the choppers involved in the CSAR mission

Two F-16s circling above provided cover to the downed personnel extraction operation.

F-16 “Sandy”

This lasts for 10 minutes and the Vipers even simulate an attack on the hidden white pickups. The choppers take off with their precious cargo in and head to the southeast.

MH-60s egressing

The fighter jets activity now seems to subside a bit.

Some are already calling “RTB” (meaning Return to Base) and some sanitize the area while the strikers egress. I haven’t seen any striker as they must have flown through a route north of Rachel. It is also interesting to add that all the air combat seen today, at least the kills, were BVR (Beyond Visual Range) or nearly – no WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights were spotted.

At about 4:15, two hours after the first thunderous noises, we hear on the frequency “All players, all players, knock it off, knock it off”: this is the end sign and everybody now RTB.

This was a long day and pretty intense afternoon which I’ll never forget. Hundreds of photos were taken. But what’s most important when coming here, is the possibility to listen to the air-to-air communications with a UHF scanner: the best way to be immersed into the action.

Thanks to Aviationist Todd Miller for all the precious info about aviation photography and Coyote Summit area.

Salva

Mesmerizing Time Lapse video shows sky over Nevada painted by combat planes during Red Flag

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

More than 70 combat planes involved twice a day in world's most realistic training exercise: welcome to the Red Flag 12-3

Taking place from Feb. 26 to Mar. 16, 2012, Red Flag 12-3 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, was attended by combat planes belonging to 12 different U.S. Squadrons and from the 75 Sqn of Royal Australian Air Force and 2 Sqn of the UK’s Royal Air Force.

The Red Flag (RF) is a realistic training exercise, organized several times a year at Nellis AFB and conducted by the 414th Combat Training Squadron on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a military training area of more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land where 1,900 possible targets and anti-aircraft systems are dispersed.

The drills, whose aim is to train pilots from the U.S. and allied air forces to operate, survive and win together in the most demanding current combat scenarios, feature also a “Red Air”, an opposing air force with fighters from the Air Force’s 64th and 65th AGRS capable to threaten strike packages in the same way a modern enemy would do in a real war.

During the last two RFs, U.S. Air Force Weapons School instructor pilots served as “tactical mentors” to participants, providing advanced knowledge to steepen the learning curve for participating units and help them to fully exploit the training opportunities provided in the NTTR.

“Today the United States Air Force operates in both contested and uncontested combat arenas; however, in the future, airpower, space and cyber domains will be both contested and denied and we must be prepared,” said Col. Robert Garland, U.S. Air Force Weapons School Commandant in the official news release on the Nellis AFB website. “Through the Weapons School’s support of Red Flag and our tactical mentoring program, we are able to help build, teach and lead participants, training at the highest level ensuring victory against any competitor.”

RF 12-3 featured two daily waves with the scheduled departure of more than 70 aircraft,  involved in missions of all types (lasting up to 8 hours), including:  MC-12Ws, EP-3 ARES (Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System), EA-6Bs, E-2D s, F-15Cs , F-22s, B-2s, F-16CMs and  F-16CJs, F-18Cs, E-8 JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System), E-3s, F-15Es, and RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, as well as RAAF F-18s and RAF Tornado GR4s.

The Aviationist’s contributor Tony Lovelock had the opportunity to attend the RF 12-3 Media Day and take the following interesting pictures of the most interesting aircraft departing or returning from Nellis AFB on Feb 13 – 14, 2012 (please note that the Thunderbirds F-16D did not take part to the exercise).

All images: Tony Lovelock for The Aviationist