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You Can’t Get Any Closer To Red Flag Than This Unless You’re Aircrew

On the flight line for a Red Flag takeoff at Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, NV. Photo: Mike Killian

Las Vegas is known for casinos, wild nights you hope nobody ever finds out about (some of you for sure), scorching hot summers, and Nellis Air Force Base, home of the Thunderbirds and the largest aerial combat training exercise in the world – Red Flag.

For several weeks, several times a year, aircraft and crews from various Defense Department units and allied nations take part together in the massive aerial training exercise, the largest of its kind in the history of airpower.

An F-16 Aggressor takes flight for a Red Flag sortie, specially trained to replicate the tactics and techniques of potential adversaries and provide a scalable threat presentation in training the good guys. Photo: Mike Killian

Participants operate at the 15,000 square-mile Nevada Test and Training Range, where more than 75 percent of all live munitions used by the Air Force for training are dropped, and go up against possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.

Mock airfields, vehicle convoys, tanks, parked aircraft, bunkered defensive positions and missile sites are all fair game, but are defended by a variety of simulated “Red” force ground and air threats.

An F-16 participates in a Red Flag exercise somewhere over Nevada. Photo: Mike Killian

Such realistic training in a combined air, ground, space and electronic threat environment basically provides for a free exchange of ideas between forces in order to maximize the combat readiness, capability and survivability of participating units.

The idea being, if a pilot can survive 10 combat sorties, then they can survive the war, so Red Flag attempts to put them through those first 10 missions – before a pilot ever has to penetrate a real war zone.

Above, take a glimpse at what being on the runway at Nellis is like for a Red Flag takeoff. Once these takeoffs start, they don’t stop, for hours; it’s basically heaven for anyone obsessed with operational military jet aircraft.

It’s hard enough to get on Nellis to see such takeoffs – spectators and photographers have to watch from the racetrack across the street, so being on assignment literally just feet from the runway was a real treat (thanks again Nellis PAO and Aviation Photo Digest).

Enjoy AvGeeks!
Follow Mike Killian on Instagram and Facebook, @MikeKillianPhotography


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Mike Killian

Written by Mike Killian

Killian is an aerospace photographer and writer, with a primary focus on spaceflight and military and civilian aviation. Over the years his assignments have brought him onboard NASA's space shuttles, in clean rooms with spacecraft destined for other worlds, front row for launches of historic missions and on numerous civilian and military flight assignments.

When not working the California-native enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, storm chasing, producing time-lapses and shooting landscape and night sky imagery, as well as watching planes of course.

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