104th Fighter Wing – Red Flag 16-1

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The 104th Fighter Wing (104th FW) of the Massachusetts Air National Guard is located at Barnes Air National Guard Base (ANGB), at Westfield Barnes Regional Airport, Westfield MA. It currently operates a single fighter squadron of F-15C/D Eagles with the 131st Fighter Squadron, and is responsible for the air defense of the northeast United States of America (Aerospace Control Alert, or ACA).

On Friday, January 22, 2016, the 104th FW deployed with over 125 unit members and F-15 Eagle aircraft for approximately four weeks in support of Red Flag 16-1 (RF 16-1), located at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada. As I was going to visit Las Vegas during RF 16-1 to photograph the activity, I made a request to visit the 104th FW during the deployment. The 104th FW approved it, and in turn the Nellis Air Force Base/99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs (99th ABW/PA) did so. My visit was scheduled for February 10. Needless to say, I was very excited.

When my escort, Senior Airman (SrA) Spangler (from the 99th ABW/PA office) and I arrived on the ramp, we proceeded to the building where the maintainers were working out of. I was pleased to see many people I knew, and also met some new people. I was briefed on what I could not take photos of (which I knew already, but always good to get it clear); one challenge was not getting close ups of member’s ID badge worn on their arm.

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We proceeded back out to the ramp, where I had to put on 2 levels of hearing protection, as the activity was quickly starting. Maintainers were finalizing the preparation of the jets as pilots walked to their aircraft. With so much happening so quickly, I was constantly looking around for scenes to shoot. And almost as quickly as the activity began, the Pratt & Whitney engines were being started. With so much noise and activity, it had now become a location that was potentially more dangerous – so it was imperative I kept aware of what was going on.

Quite a few times I was ready to take a photo and would see an ID badge, and had to stop and see if the airman would move. Many times, I had to reframe the shot. But, these types of situations makes us better photographers.

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The 144th FW of the California Air National Guard, based out of Fresno, was sharing the ramp with the 104th FW and working together on missions. I was able to get some photos of their jets after getting approval from one of their Lieutenant Colonels. Soon, some of the jets were pulling out their parking spots, and a few more pilots proceeded to their jets for their missions.

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I worked my way down the ramp closer to the runways. Sitting there was an F-15D Eagle, awaiting the lucky airman who was about to get an incentive flight. I was asked to get some detail shots of her getting ready for the flight. It was easy to see her excitement, but also some of her nervousness too.

While waiting in between the activity on the ramp, I was able to get some close up shots of jets taking off on runway 3L, another nice bonus.

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After the incentive flight departed, the visit came to an end and SrA Spangler needed to review the few hundred photos I had taken. I was pleased that only one had to be deleted due to an ID badge visible.

It was a fantastic visit, and to be able to see the 104th FW in action up close during RF 16-1 was something I won’t forget.

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Special thanks to the 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, SrA Spangler, the 104th Fighter Wing Public Affairs and all the dedicated men and women of the 104th Fighter Wing.