Once upon a time my friend Billy and I vowed we would never spend another night camping in the high deserts of southern Nevada. In less than one years time we had two nice tents destroyed by the sudden storms that can sneak up. We had been to a handful of Red Flag exercises with limited results. So with the promise of actually seeing something this time we packed up a new tent and made the drive from Salt Lake City out to Rachel.
After spending the night on the edge of the dry lakebed we made our way to Cedar Gate around 9:00 am. Too bad we missed the convoy! We weren't sure exactly where to go, especially since we weren't in a 4x4 vehicle. Luckily we ran into a few other people near the ranch that were also waiting for the planes to arrive. They were kind enough to direct us first to the "Cactus" gate (no F-117 sightings though;) and then to an easy-to-get-to spot just southeast of the Keno Strip that proved to be an amazing vantage point.
After the Weapons School "show" we decided to quickly try and find the F-15 crash sight. We were making our way there when we saw the first C-17's coming in from the north. We must have set a new land speed record, at least for a 2-door Chevy Cavalier, trying to get back to our spot. We made it back to the road that heads towards the hills near Keno just as they had made their first pass. It was an absolutely surreal experience driving through the desert as fast as I dared with 20 plus planes screaming by at just a few hundred feet above us, Billy hanging halfway out the window trying to snap pictures the whole way. I'm sure the pilots thought we were idiots; hopefully we gave them a good laugh.
We set up quickly and tried to take pictures and video as the rest of the planes made their first and second passes. Most of them flew straight over the top of us as they headed east before circling around again. We got a tip of the wings from one pilot and two of them dropped a few flares very near to where we were parked.
We watched them land on the strip and take off again, and then we did the same.
I wholeheartedly agree with Peter's report in that this exercise is better to watch than Red Flag. Our previous Red Flag outings were nothing compared to what we were able to see this time. We will definitely be back for future MAFEX operations.
Here is a link to a few video clips we filmed, albeit crappy ones: