Monitoring the Action around the Nellis Ranges

During Red Flag and also other Exercises that take place around the Nellis Ranges of Southern Nevada you will see and hear many fast jets and other aircraft doing air combat or just general handling.
If you have a scanner then this opens up a completely new world of listening to the action.


You need two main bits of equipment here and one cannot be used without the other....

For monitoring military communications, you need a VHF and UHF scanner. Most military comms use UHF, but VHF is also used.
The scanner also needs to have a fast Scan speed, preferably more that 80ch/sec and needs to be battery efficient unless you monitor from your car which can power the scanner like it would to power the lighter or phone. Most scanners take rechargeable batteries anyway.
If you are not sure what scanner to buy then email me at and I will be glad to help out. There are lots of scanners suitable for military monitoring but they vary in price range, vastly! The antenna used is just as vital as the scanner. A scanner is no good unless you have a decent antenna; a decent antenna means a decent reception and a decent day of monitoring,
Most scanners come with a decent whip/telescopic/rubber duck antenna and these are actually ideal for monitoring around the desert. They are light, small and perform well.
However if you want to get brilliant performance out of your scanner, buy a small portable tri-plane discone. There are many designs on the market, small and light enough to carry round in a small bag. I take my mobile discone everywhere I go with the mobile scanner!
Make sure the antenna is UHF capable! Choose one which is ranged between 25 - 1300MHz.

Your Location:-

Monitoring the traffic around the Ranges and Desert MOA is easy, however it also depends on where you are situated!
Military communications using the VHF (Very High Frequency) and UHF (Ultra High Frequency) spectrum are Line of Sight (LOS) only. So trying to listen to Groom Lake for example on Tikaboo Peak can only efficiently be done by actually being on the summit or the west slope. Being on the eastern slope and far down the mountain won't afford you anything decent of the base communications. See diagrams below.
However, aircraft fly at altitude and being at ground level still affords great comms chatter and thus 'action'.
Aircraft flying in between the mountains and hills will be harder to listen to, because of their flight level (FL) and terrain hugging profile.
However most of the actual 'air-war' takes place at medium to high altitudes and so monitoring this is very easy without problems.
Monitoring the Strikers will be harder due to their flight level however and so sitting on a hilltop is preferred when monitoring the exercises and day to day operations from Nellis. Don't forget that sitting on the hills also affords great photos. But always make sure that you do not inadvertently cross the border of the restricted area.

Overall, sitting at a high elevation, and in Nevada, a mountain over 7000ft is good, offers a greatly enhanced reception and range. You will hear things you never heard before at ground level and your range will increase sometimes over 100 miles or so which means more to listen to, more to actually see and so on....that means more enjoyment.

Below are a few diagrams if you don't understand the line of sight problems:

As you can see, the mountain blocks the signal of the scanner the little man is using, and so he's frustrated.
How can I get these pesky jets flying behind the mountain?. Easy....climb up to the summit, if its not too hard!
In most cases you don't know what's behind the mountain anyway, jet sound doesn't travel through rock and so climbing up that mountain may afford a surprise, in some cases a very good surprise, you might find a B-52 or B-1B heading towards you at eye level!
Don't forget, with no haze you can see small jets flying over 15 miles away. I am always watching through the binoculars at specks in the distance. Through the bins you can identify them as they become enlarged. You also have the advantage of looking down on the aircraft, which is quite an experience!

OK, Mr. Man can see a jet above the mountain...that means its line of sight and so he can pick up his signal. no problem!
So, looking at the diagrams you can see that standing/sitting on the summit of a hill or mountain wipes out the line of sight problem.

Mr. Man knows there is a facility behind the mountain but can't seem to pick up any communications from it.

So he's used his common sense and climbed the mountain, he can now see the facility and hear the communications with ease.

You can find must of the relevant frequencies on this web site. Just program these into your scanners.

Always take your camera with you, you may get some very decent photographs of aircraft and there's always the surprise of 'that' elusive black program on a test.

For Air-Air Refueling Frequencies and locations please see the Air-Air Refueling Page.

Also, use common sense. You can get in trouble with scanners so be aware of what you can or cannot do. Letting Security know you are sniffing out their frequencies with a frequency counter will show them you are attempting a security breach. It may only be listening to them on the radio, but it could be enough to get you in trouble.

Its also good to take a voice activated recorder with you, its very handy for when you get home or if something interesting happens.

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