Red Flag 14-3…… Aviation Photography Insight.

Red Flag Exercises are held 3 to 4 times a year at Nellis AFB, NV. It is known to all aviators and aviation enthusiasts as the premier Red/Blue Force air combat exercise. 2014 is no exception whereby ( AWS )  had the opportunity to visit Nellis AFB where we were given an inside look. AWS will be presenting different topics of interest regarding Red Flag 14-3.

This 1st article will be focusing on Aviation Photography for the Red Flag exercise focusing on the  spotting locations, photography in general covering this event and Nellis AFB.


Nellis AFB is located next to Las Vegas, NV ( aka ” Sin City” ). To get to Red Flag we follow the Nellis AFB website for upcoming Exercise dates . A typical  Red Flag spans for 2 to 3 weeks and in some occasions there will be Green Flag that coincides with the Red Flag.


Nellis AFB has 2 runways parallel to each other 03 L & R and 21 L and R. These runway will be use actively for Air Ops and the inner runway are typically use for the heavies and bombers. During the actual Red Flag Ex, they usually launch at about 1230hrs to 1330 hrs in the afternoon and an evening launch at about 2030hrs to 2100 hrs. If you are lucky to get there with a coinciding Green flag you get a morning launch. Recovery usually is about 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs from time of launch.

Las Vegas Blvd can get pretty busy during the Red Flag. As you can see some of the photographers in action and hard at work.

Here are the Frequencies that is being use for Nellis AFB

Airport Communications

ATIS: 270.1
NELLIS GROUND: 121.8 275.8
NELLIS TOWER: 132.55 327.0
NELLIS APPROACH: 118.125 291.725

You can expect both 03 and 21 being used as active with winds from either directions. However for the 2 days when I was there, they launched from 03 and recovered on 21. I did get information that on the next day, they did launched from 21 and recovered on 21 so a lot of time, the wind direction does not dictate the active runway use.

There are two major areas that we can spot for Red Flag.

1) Launching from Runway 03 L and R. ( Please refer to my Spotting guide in the website for actual spotting location  )  Speedway or Las Vegas Blvd.


The Default launching of aircraft usually goes on both runway 03 L and R.  During the launch, we will be shooting from the speedway towards the base. Unfortunately, the afternoon sun is not ideal for  most shots coming out because of the  haze and back lighting.   I would typically stay by gate 7 and 8 for the launch. Here are some my shots in that area. However if they do a “Flex takeoff”, you will get excellent banking shots. These can be seen below  with shots number 5 onwards as you can see those jets banking in front of you. Typically the aggressors and some squadrons will do that.



 2) Gate 5 can be a good spot for the early morning Weapon School launches and recovery if using runway 21R. )

3) Las Vegas Blvd Recovery for runway 21L and R

The aircraft recovery for Red Flag is best because you typically have optimal lighting conditions. They usually return around 1500 hrs thru sunset depending on how large the air Exercise and sorties. Aircraft using 21L are hard to shoot because they are a little far off. Runway 21R is typically the best as most aggressors drivers will do a carrier break and do their base leg and Final leg right over Gates 4 and 5. So, if you get a flight of 4 aircraft you will be running between gates 4, 5 and 6 to get the best shots. Lighting as I mention is pretty good at this time. Below are my shots from Gate 4 and 5 on the recovery.

4) E. Cheyenne Ave area when 21L &R for launches and 03 L & R for recovery


Stay on Cheyenne and you will end up here overlooking the runway. As stated, sometimes launches can come from 21 L&R and you will be in for a lot of actions here. I did not shoot from Cheyenne Ave this time because on both days it is not ideal to shoot on this spot.

The Video clip below illustrates the aircraft path I wrote about.


AWS had the oppurtunity to get on base and visit the Threat Center, interview with the Red Flag Participants and shoot between the 2 runways. I will leave the media day presentation for my next article. Here are some of what I saw from the inside.


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