Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

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.

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U.S. and Polish Hercules trained to perform cargo drops while evading MiG-29 interception during exercise in Poland

Take a look at these interesting photographs of Polish and U.S. C-130 Hercules performing cargo-drops, landings on unprepared strips, while evading MiG-29 fighter engagements.

U.S. and Polish C-130 aircrews took part in exercise AvDet 17-2 a Hercules Training Operation that took place between Mar. 3 and 28, at Powidz airbase located in Central Poland.

AvDet 17-2 included a cargo-drop and precise-landing contest as well as tactical sorties, landings on unprepared strips, fighter engagements with the Polish MiG-29 fighter aircraft, and night operations carried out with the use of NVGs (Night Vision Goggles).

Every sortie began with a mass briefing, during which the formation leader explained and specified the assumptions and objectives of the mission, along with the details of the route and safety and communications aspects concerning the crews.

On the day when Foto Poork’s Filip Modrzejewski visited the airbase, fighter engagement sorties were planned with the involvement of the Polish Air Force MiG-29 jets hailing from the Minsk Mazowiecki airbase, located in the vicinity of Warsaw.

The goal of such sorties was to allow the Fulcrum pilots to refine their intercept skills, while allowing the Hercules crews to deal with enemy fighters by proper route planning and tactical maneuvers.

Modrzejewski was given the opportunity to fly aboard a Polish C-130 during a mission mainly flown at 14,000 feet (probably, a bit too high to avoid interception). The Hercules crews claimed that even though the MiG-29 radar is not a state of the art system, it has more than enough capability to detect and lock onto an “enemy” Hercules.

C-130s heading to the drop zone

The tactics adopted in scenarios as such include tactical maneuvers at high G rates, or complete evasion and avoidance of the areas within which the fighter aircraft remain active. Nonetheless, the airlifters were eventually intercepted by a pair of Fulcrums, and then a short formation flight with the MiGs took place, with the crews enjoying the company of the fighter aircraft. After the “show of force” came to an end, the cargo planes returned to base, with a follow-up debriefing.

A MiG-29 escorts the Polish C-130 after intercepting the Hercules flying a tactical airlift mission

Beyond the fighter engagement sorties, cargo drops were performed at night and during the day. In bad weather conditions, the drops were carried out with the use of sandbags, instead of real payload or personnel, to avoid potential losses. The operations took place in the airspace over the 33rd Airlift Base in Powidz. Even though some plans existed to perform sorties over the so-called Błędowska Desert area in Poland, the arrangement was eventually canceled due to adverse weather conditions in that region.

Polish C-130 performs tactical air drop

Airdrop in progress!

U.S. C-130H Hercules over Powdiz

When it comes to the precision cargo drop and landing contest, finalizing the exercise, the crew of the ‘1501’ Hercules aircraft, the very same airlifter that was the first one that has been delivered to Poland exactly eight years ago, won the competition held within the framework of the US AvDet 17-2 training operation.

View from the cargo door of the Hercules

A glimpse into the cockpit of the Polish Air Force C-130

The competition took place on Mar. 24. 2017 and involved four crews – two from the US and two from Poland. The American airmen, as noted within the official report issued by the Polish MoD, operated the C-130H airframes, whereas the Polish crews were flying the C-130E variant, with the crews including pilots, loadmasters, flight engineers and navigators.

The contest covered the areas of precise landings and precise cargo drops. Polish Air Force’s ‘1501’ airframes, commanded by Cpt. Szymon Gajowniczek, has left the competition far behind, winning in both categories.

The U.S. “legacy” C-130 taxiing

In case of the cargo-drop portion of the contest, the winners were able to drop the load 48 meters from the target, 3 meters closer than the American crew managed to do.

In case of the landing competition, the Polish pilots managed to land only 12 meters from the indicated point. Considering the fact that C-130E is 30 meters long, the aforesaid results are very impressive.

Landing on an unprepared strip

Image Credit: Wojciech Mazurkiewicz and Filip Modrzejewski

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Tanker Cell departure: how multiple KC-135 tankers launch in sequence and rejoin after take off.

Take a seat inside the cockpit of KC-135 Stratotanker number 4 in a 5-ship “Tanker Cell.”

You don’t happen to see five KC-135 tankers launching in sequence too often: when needed, the aerial refuelers (sometimes coming from different airbases) normally rejoin in flight and from fly in cell formation until reaching the “racetrack” for the rendezvous with the receivers.

However, especially during the Cold War, several Stratotankers might be requested to depart in sequence at very short notice to support the nuclear bombers of the Strategic Air Command: in that case they KC-135s as well as the B-52s would perform a MITO (Minimum Interval Take Off), something they still train for quite regularly nowadays.

This video was filmed back in 1991 at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan, and shows five Stratotankers departing in a so-called “Tanker Cell” with two R-Model tankers leading the cell, and all the rest A-Models trailing them.

According to Anthony Burleson, the user who posted the video to Youtube, “it was a rare procedure, however we had training requirements to maintain for cell takeoffs. There was a period when tanker spacing used to be 12 seconds, lol.”

“My early copilot training, during the last few years of SAC, used aircraft spacing of 12 seconds for the MITO. That was the standard spacing for the Minimum Interval Take Off for any combination of the KC-135 and the B-52.”

As you may imagine, things could become pretty tense in case of abort by one of the aircraft, especially the leader:

“[… ] an abort by any of the 5 ships would certainly create a gaggle to be dealt with at a moments notice. Being collectively briefed, if lead were to abort, #2 would assume the lead and so on. Safety is paramount within a training sortie; however, it was a great feeling when the cell would launch without a hitch,” Burleson explains in a comment.

Twelve KC-135 Stratotankers from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron taxi onto the runway during exercise Forceful Tiger on Kadena Air Base, Japan, April 1, 2015. During the aerial exercise, the Stratotankers delivered 800,000 pounds of fuel to approximately 50 aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marcus Morris)

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Amazing helmet cam video brings you in the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom aircraft flying over Grand Canyon

Awesome footage from aboard one the last USAF F-4s, as it flies in formation with another Phantom over the amazing scenery of the Grand Canyon.

The U.S. Air Force retired its last F-4 Phantom at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on Dec. 21, 2016.

The final appearance of the mighty “Rhino” at an airshow occurred during Nellis Air Force Base’s Aviation Nation air show, on Nov. 12 and 13.

The following crazy cool video was filmed as the two aircraft that took part at the airshow, piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and by Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim “WAM” Harkins, departed Nellis AFB to return to their homebase.

The footage, filmed with a camera attached to the flight helmet of WAM, lets you experience the afterburner formation takeoff, the rendezvous with a T-33 for short air-to-air photo session and then the flight over the amazing scenery of the Grand Canyon, as if you were strapped into the cockpit of one of the last USAF F-4s.

At 04:56 into the video you can also get a clear view of the Grand Canyon West Airport, close to the famous Skywalk.

H/T to Giulio Cristante for the link to the stunning AirshowStuff video!

U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster crew posted online this hilarious parody of the popular BBC interview crashed by kids

A Globemaster Pilot tries desperately to read back her Takeoff Clearance to the ATC. But she’s interrupted by her crew.

The video of Professor Robert Kelly, an expert on South Korea whose interview with the BBC was crashed by his children who suddenly appeared behind him, has now become viral.

Several memes and parodies have appeared online since then.

The one was posted by some U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command C-17 Globemaster III airlifter crew who has staged a scene similar to that of the two kids bursting in on their dad during the interview, where the pilot, trying to read back the ATC (Air Traffic Control) route clearance, is interrupted by the crew who enters the cockpit.

The flight crew shall read back to the air traffic controller ATC departure, approach, landing and route clearances, instructions to taxi, enter, land on, take off from any runway, etc.

Take a look here, it’s rather funny.

H/T to Instagrammers @theglobemaster and @_thetravelingblonde

 

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