A fascinating video I found on YouTube shows aircraft involved in the Red Flag 09 exercise during what is called a “mass launch”, which means exactly that: aircraft are pushed out of revetments and hangars out into the runways one after the other in a carefully choreographed dance that can take as much as three hours.
Red Flag is a readiness and training exercise run in different phases every fiscal year by the US Air Force’s 57th Wing out of Nellis AFB in Nevada. Aside from US Air Force, Marine, Army and Navy aircraft, other allied nations also take part with their hardware. This helps everyone get along together when the going gets tough. This is similar to the SFTI (aka TOPGUN) exercises run by the Navy out of NAS Fallon (back when “that movie” was released, TOPGUN was held at NAS Miramar).
The scramble progression is the usual heavy-read-blue sequence, with the large aircraft (support and ground attack) heading out first, followed by most of the “red” aggressor aircraft (used to simulate the enemy) and then the bulk of the “blue” forces. I spied:
- 1 E-3 Sentry
- 1 E-8 JSTARs
- B-1B Lancers
- B-2 Spirits
- F-16Ns of the 18th, 64th and 56th aggressor squadrons
- F-22 Raptors (which look like futuristic flying saucers compared to everything else)
- F-15Es (ground attack variant of the F-15)
- F-16Cs (Blue)
- Marine AV-8B Harriers, poor little slow fugly things (I kid, some of my best friends are Marine aviators)
On this other video there are a couple of French (I think) AMXs as well as B-52G bombers and F-15C aggressors. The aggressor aircraft can be identified by their naval or desert camouflage paint schemes, used to mimic mostly Russian aircraft like the SU-27, MiG-29 and MiG-24.
Interestingly enough I did not see any Blue F-15s, I suppose because they’ve been supplanted by the F-22s. Too bad we only have enough of those for about 4 hours of any hot war against a capable adversary, but then the USAF is known for its shit for brains acquisitions, unlike the Navy (yay).
The one and only time I had the privilege to attend a Red Flag back in 1998 (the Dutch Air Force was there in force, IIRC) the Air Force was still flying F-4 Phantoms and F-111 Aardvarks. I didn’t know they let people stand in the middle of the grid at Nellis and take videos. I should probably try to get in on that action one of these days. If you’ve ever felt a jet engine go full MIL 30 feet away you probably know what I’m talking about.
This guy has some beautiful high-res pictures of Red Flag 07-2, which still featured the F-117 stealth “fighter” (more like slow tactical bomber), EA-6B Prowlers, A-10s and RAF Tornados. Very cool.