Coyote Summit, Lincoln County, NV, USA - Red Flag 11-3, February-March 2011

Back in February, Red Flag 11-3 presented itself with an opportunity to catch some of the players low-level. With RAF Tornado GR.4s and USAF A-10s, both well known for keeping in the weeds, and no real exotic visitors, this would prove a good opportunity of off-base shooting.

For this exercise I spent a total of six days, three days each over two trips, in order to spend more time away from the airfield than normal. The first day was on base where we got to assess launch times and the players for this Flag.

The next day we went on a trip out to the edge of the ranges. It's a five hour round-trip drive to get to that area, so basically you are committed to do no shooting at Nellis. Cellphone service is usually lost within ten minutes of leaving the highway, so it's always a good idea that you don't travel alone, something I've done in the past and almost come a cropper - but that's another story!

We bagged a couple of A-10s in and out plus Tornado GR.4 "Shiny Two" transiting back to Nellis. We didn't see any Tornados going into the ranges, and this is because there are numerous routes in and out, so it's easily possible to not see any aircraft even though they routed your way. They can be a couple of miles away across the plain, where you can see them, but too far away for photos, or they can be to your east in another canyon all together, and you wont hear or see them. I've had many blank days out here.

Two weeks later and I was back, this was a three week exercise, and on day one I was back out at the edge of the ranges. A couple of A-10s inbound and a solitary Tornado outbound and that was our day.

This time around climbed a different hill, thanks to Kev, who, the following week, had accidentally ascended the wrong hill. We decided to take a chance and did a probe of this new hill and found it better than our normal place, so nice one Kev!

My last day and it was back again to the edge of the ranges, this time we were four people in total. Being early we decided to have a coffee and burger at the ever quirky Little A'Le'Inn.

By this time in the exercise the pilots from the Red Devils knew where we were standing, after noticing us on previous flights and being tipped off by Neil. (Thanks Neil!)

We had a flight of four aircraft home in on us and loiter in a racetrack for perhaps 15 minutes before they flew to their time-on-target inside the ranges.

On their recovery we were treated to a single ship fly-by. As we descended the mountain, camera equipment packed away, I spied a dot on the horizon next to the adjacent hill. At first glance it looked like a helicopter as it was stationary, but a millisecond later it was obviously a Tornado, in the weeds below us, wings swept fully back and in burner. We all missed the shot but it was a great sight to see.

That last day is by no means typical, in fact I'd venture that it was a one-off, but if you are willing to spend a day or two away from the airfield, you may be rewarded with some low-level action - of course you may come away with nothing at all.

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