I had thought Red Flag was over this year as of August 2008, but a new release of the 2009 schedule gave me a reprieve with a two week Red Flag exercise the end of October.
Now some of you may love to go to the races, or hunting and fishing, but for me my adventure is to spend a week or two in the Nevada desert watching Red Flag exercises, and most important, photographing air warfare training exercises in real time, only as a civilian can.
Having never been in the military because of my hearing not meeting Air Force standards for the Air Force as required back in the 50's, I had to watch as my three older brothers spent a combined total of over thirty years service in the USAF. So in a sense, the Air Force and I have always been kindred spirits even if only I recognized that fact.
On the web site Webshots, I have posted many of my photos from the point of view that would show you what occurs in the skies over the Nellis Combat Range as if you were there, because in fact, most of you will never get to see what we few die hards do. I consider it a privilege to be able to spend the time I can taking these photos. Because of the isolation of the area, there are only a handful of individuals who can spend the time that I and a few others are able too. Some of you can take day trips like I once did, and if the flip of the coin shows you a good air show, consider yourself lucky, as each day of Red Flag has a different face, a different game plan to be played out, and you, the observer, have no idea what it maybe. That is the challenge I face when I visit the Rachel/Alamo area of Nevada. I never know what will occur one day to the next. It is never the same each day.
Click here for the photos of this trip report
Another benefit is the great people you meet in Rachel like Bill P. who just happened to be passing through, and we spent several hours talking and watching the skies before he had to continue on. There are many of you like him out there, and although we may not be in contact, I doubt I have forgotten any of you. They are all treasured moments for me.
I figured I have spent over forty hours the last five days of this last Red Flag (October) just standing out in the desert in all types of weather just waiting for those few seconds of action when a fighter jet screams at you at over several hundred miles an hour just a few hundred feet over your head, and I try an capture the moment with my digital camera.
I figure that I probably take a hundred bad, blurry photos for every one good photo I make. I have taken thousands of photos, with most going the way of the delete key.
Since I only have one camera and one zoom lens, a Nikon 80-400mm, it is extremely difficult to focus an object moving at high speeds coming right at you. You have to hope you have the right focal point when you push the shutter button. A jet will appear out of nowhere as a small dot, and grow larger in size until it almost blocks out the sky as it passes over only to quickly diminish in size again as it disappears over the horizon. All in just a few seconds.
Now if you are not looking in the right direction when it happens, the photographic opportunity is pretty much cut in half. I can't count the number of times I have been watching in one direction when suddenly from in back of me I'll hear a loud road and spin around, camera ready, only to see a jet screaming right over my head. I have taken more butt ends of aircraft that way than I'd like to admit. But even some of those photos can be interesting.
I hope you read this narrative in it's entirety before you go to my Webshot area to view the October 2008 Red Flag exercises. I was only able to spend the last week observing them, and I decided to change my location from my usual spots of Rachel, Coyote summit, and Railroad Valley. This time I choose to park my RV in Timpahute Valley, in an area just of the ET Highway and about 6 miles from Coyote Pass. The location affords a commanding view of the valley, also known for its neighbor, Groom Lake, aka, Area 51.
For those of you who have never been there, I am going to try and present my photos so you will see what I see, mainly the great expanse of desert and sky, and the air activity as it played out above me.
My photos will show several memorial moments as I am about to describe.
You will see that my RV is just a small white dot in the desert, from which I was constantly flying my American Flag. When I drove away a few miles, I could hardly see my RV at all. Here the story gets interesting.
One day a couple of A-10s flew low overhead and passed on into the Nellis bombing range. After a short period of time they flew back the same way returning to base. After passing by they flew on for a few miles, and then suddenly they banked steeply to the right as only the A-10s can and turned around heading for my RV. They flew only a few hundred feet overhead circling my RV with wing tip to wing tip almost vertical and then flew back to base. At the time I was standing in the desert a few hundred yards away. I was able to get a few photos which I have posted on Webshots.
Another day an F-16 flew by heading for the bombing range. At first I saw it as a small dot, then it took on the shape of a black dart growing larger and larger as it passed a few hundred feet over my RV which to me was just a small white dot in the desert. Man, can those guys/gals fly those machines. Now at the time I had driven a couple of miles up a side road to the foothills in back of my RV, hoping for a different view to photograph. Shortly the F-16 flew back to base. After passing by several miles away it too suddenly banked to the right making a wide looping turn around the valley, passing my RV in its maneuver and made a run directly at me and my pickup passing a few hundred feet over me. I was able to get a series of photos of this event which I hope you appreciate as much as I did. How did he/she know I was there?
There is no doubt in my mind those pilots knew exactly where I was and probably what I was doing there. They definitely went out of their way to acknowledge my presence, and also the American Flag flying full in the light breeze.
These are the moments I will always treasure, the reasons I and others like myself stand in the desert for hours on end.
Then there is the morning I stepped out the door of my RV and suddenly noticed a pair of B1 Bombers quietly approaching my RV a few thousand feet up dropping flares as they flew by. By the time I ran back into my RV and grabbed my camera, I could only get off a couple of overhead shots, missing the best ones. There is a moral to this story for me, and that is never walk out of my RV without camera in hand. Heck, now I never walk from one side to the other without my camera. Things can and do happen that fast.
I don't know what the pilots think of we civilians who do this thing of ours. I don't know if they know how much we appreciate what they do for us, and how thankful we are to have them flying above us at any hour of the day or night. I don't know if they understand how we on the ground would love to be with them, up there, flying high, especially this one guy, me, who has never been in one of those gun ships.
I have seen many aircraft from many nations, as well as ours, over many of the Red Flag exercises. In my eyes they are all majestic in their own way. How I'd love to fly in a Raptor or an F-16 just once an experience the thrill of that gut wrenching ride, and I wouldn't even be ashamed to use the barf bag as required.
But I must admit I have this particular love for the A-10, and how it flies like an eagle stalking its prey. While the F-16s come at you like a dart, the A-10s look like awesome beasts ready to devour you. They fly through the mountains like eagles catching the air currents from the valley floor, yet ready to grab you in their talons for an immediate feast.
Yes, if I had a choice then that would be the ride I would choose. If someone with influence is reading this... well I can dream can't I.
So for those of you who fly the skies to protect us, and for all the men and women in the military on the ground and on the waters who sacrifice so much and persevere through adverse times, my wife and I say thank you from the bottom of our hearts and may God Bless All of You, and may God Bless America.