Red Flag 11-02 Media Day

On January 25, 2011, Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs hosted a media day for Red Flag    11-2.  Photorecon attended along with 38 other aviation photographers from all over the nation.

Since 1975, Red Flag exercises have been taking place at Nellis Air Force Base, located in the desert north of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Red Flag is a massive advanced aerial combat exercise involving fighter, bomber, refueling, transport, and electronic countermeasure aircraft from the United States Air Force.  In addition to the USAF, other branches of service and allied nations send their aircraft to this exercise.  Currently, there are 3 Red Flag exercises per year.

Red Flag 11-2 would include 8 different aircraft flown by USAF aircrews from 11 states, 2 European based US squadrons, and aircrews from 2 allied nations.  Added to the aircraft activity, was the Green Flag exercise that was also running during the same time as Red Flag.  Green Flag a smaller scale exercise designed to support ground troops at Fort Irwin.

We met at the Nellis AFB visitor center at 10am and were greeted by our host for the event, Senior Airman Michael Charles.  From there, we boarded a bus and headed out to Nellis’ 2 active runways.  As we drove out to the runways, on the east ramps were 5 B-1Bs and 4 B-52s.  On the west ramps were the fighters, AWACS, refuelers, and transport aircraft (including a lone C-5 Galaxy).

We were driven approximately half way down the length of the runway to the designated area where we would be able to photograph arriving and departing aircraft.  Before we exited the bus, Senior Airman Charles gave us a safety brief, including where we could and couldn’t walk.  In reality, these boundaries were about the size of a football field.  Plenty of room for 42 aviation photographers!

So by 1030, we were all out on the field, awaiting the Red Flag launch.  From 1030 to 1100, all we could hear were the engines of a B-52 spinning up.  The lull in the activity was very short lived because at 1100, the Red Flag launch extravaganza began.  For the next 60 minutes, 30+ aircraft departed.  The departures started with the heavies – The AWACS E-3, 2 B-52s, 2 B-1s, and 2 KC-135s.  This group was followed by 5 C-130s, (2 Belgian Air Force and 3 USAF), 8 A-10s, and countless F-16s and F-15s.

After this mass launch, there was a break in air activity until approximately 1pm.  At 1pm, we learned that an F-16 that had launched earlier was declaring an “In Flight Emergency” (IFE).  The F-16 had been unable to retract his nose gear and was receiving a faulty nose gear indicator light in the cockpit.  The F-16 orbited overhead for an hour burning off excess fuel.  Once the F-16 had burned off enough fuel, the pilot decided to land.  Prior to landing, Senior Airman Charles recalled all the photographers and gathered us up around a one story observation tower until the F-16 had landed.

The stricken F-16 with his wingman flying in a “chase plane” position made their final approach.  Fortunately, the F-16 landed safely and the airfield resumed normal flight operations.

At about 2pm, the first Red Flag aircraft started returning.  First a KC-135, then the fighters, C130s, A-10s, B-1s, B-52s, and finally the E-3 AWACS.   By 3pm the recovery cycle was over.

We had one last minute departure before boarding the bus and returning to the visitor’s center.  This departure was a flight of several F-22s and F-15s.  What made the Raptor departure interesting was that they had auxiliary fuel tanks on.  These were F-22s from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron.  A great way to end the day!

There are never bad media days, just ones that are better and Red Flag 11-2 media day was nothing short of remarkable!  In just over 3 hours were we able to photograph the departures and arrivals of 30+ aircraft including USAF aircraft that are based in the United States and Europe, aircraft that were from foreign countries, the newest most advanced aircraft, and the oldest aircraft in the USAF inventory.

A special thanks to Public Affair’s Senior Airman Michael Charles for making this incredible media day possible.  An additional thanks goes out to Airmen’s First Class Cynthia Haughton Virginia and Whitney Jackson for their assistance and professionalism in keeping all 42 photographers out of trouble and off the runway.

Phil Myers

Phil Myers, a military aviation photojournalist with a passion for telling stories and documenting the history of military aviation. In addition to his website publications, Phil’s articles and photographs have been published in several magazines. Phil resides in Southern California.

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