Red Flag 20-02 Foreign East Coast Visitors

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For those who can’t get to Las Vegas Nevada and witness the various foreign aircraft types at Nellis Air Force Base, there is another way to spot them. Many on the east coast of the United States track the units as they transit across the Atlantic Ocean and stop over before they arrive at Nellis Air Force Base for Red Flag.

Red Flag 20-02 recently concluded at Nellis Air Force Base on March 18th. Red Flag is a contested combat training exercise involving the Air Forces of the United States and its Allies. It is coordinated at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and conducted on the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). It is one of a series of advanced training programs administered by the United States Air Force Warfare Center and Nellis Air Force Base. [1]

Red Flag 20-02 featured participants were from the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Spain. They were joined by the United States Air Force , NATO and Draken International.

The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) brought a contingent of Panavia Tornado’s of (Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader) TLG 33 and TLG 51 and the EF-2000 Eurofighter Typhoons of TLG 31 and TLG 74. They were supported by several A-400M Atlas cargo planes. The Luftwaffe fighters transited the Atlantic Ocean with tanker support provided by the U.S. Air Force utilizing a northern route with a stop over in Bangor, Maine. Two Federal Ministry of Defense A310’s (via Dulles) and two A340’s (non-stop) transported the support personnel to Nellis AFB.

The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) utilized two KC-767A tankers to drag six F-35A’s and six F-2000 Eurofighter Typhoons supported by a C-130J. The Italians utilized a route that included a stop over at Lajes International Airport, Portugal in the Azores Islands before preceding onto Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.

The Spanish Air Force, (Ejército del Aire) deployed fourteen EF-2000A C.16 Typhoons from Wing 11 (ALA 11) and Wing 14 (ALA 14) to the first stop also at Lajes International Airport, Portugal. In a unique partnership, the SAF utilized two Royal Air Force A330-200 MRTT (KC.Mk2) Voyager tankers to drag the Eurofighter’s to Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base. They were supported by a Spanish Air Force P-3M Orion of Group 22, several A-400M Atlas cargo planes of the 31st Wing and an A-310 of the 45th Air Group. The P-3 was in charge of SAR for the ocean crossing. On-board the P-3 were para-rescue swimmers who could rescue any pilot that had to eject over water. Four Typhoons were spare aircraft for the Atlantic Ocean crossing that were not utilized and returned to Spain after making the Azores.

On March 1st two cells of fighters prepared for departure from Lajes to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The crosswinds were on the verge of being a no go when the first cell of four Typhoons departed along with the first RAF Voyager tanker and the P-3M Orion.

As the second cell prepared to depart thirty minutes later the crosswind situation was marginal for departure at 17 mph with gusts to 31 mph. The group waited for two hours to depart before clearing the runway and taxing back.

The first cell arrived at Dover Air Force Base in a four ship echelon conducting a break for landing at midfield. Next to arrive was RAF Voyager followed by the P-3M.

On March 2nd the second cell of six Typhoons, a second RAF Voyager and Spanish Air Force A-400M departed Lajes for Dover Air Force Base. There would be no overhead break for landing on this day as one of the Typhoons declared an in flight emergency (IFE) on approach to Dover with a a stuck fuel probe. The tower was concerned they were losing fuel and instructed them to land and shut down at the end of the runway. The typhoons approached in pairs before the RAF Voyager and A-400M arrived. Among the highlights was the NATO Tiger Meet 2018 Typhoon adorned in its special tiger livery.

Red Flag 20-02 was concluded a few days early due to the Cover 19 outbreak and the Air Forces started returning home on March 19th with the NATO aircraft departing. Dover AFB hosted the Spanish Air Force for an extended stay related to Cover 19 until March 26th.

Special thanks to my friends Robert C. Gerard of Willow Hill Photography for the Luftwaffe photos arrival at Bangor Maine and Chris Ianno for the Italian Air Force photos arrival at Pease New Hampshire. The Italian Air Force ( Aeronautica Militare  ) is credited with the in-flight photo on the Atlantic Ocean crossing to Red Flag 20-02.

For more information on Red Flag and the italian Air Force participation, see:

https://www.nellis.af.mil/About/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/284176/414th-combat-training-squadron-red-flag/ 

https://www.itamilradar.com/2020/02/20/italians-to-the-red-flag/

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Mike Colaner

Mike Colaner is a native of Central New Jersey and still resides there today with his family. I always had a fascination with aviation with both NAS Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base nearby to my boyhood home. Upon graduating High School, I went to work for Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at NAEC Lakehurst. I worked in the engineering department on the PA-97 Helistat project as a draftsman. I soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served four years active duty with both the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After completing my enlistment, I went to college and became a New Jersey State Trooper. I recently retired after serving 25 years and I am looking for my next adventure. I am very glad that I have been able to join this team and to share my passion with all of you.

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