The skies over Afghanistan gradually become a little bit more quiet. In September, Belgian Air Component F-16s left Kandahar airbase, following in the foot steps of NATO E-3A Component AWACS aircraft while in July, Dutch F-16s also ended operations. Now, it’s Royal Air Force Panavia Tornados that return home, ending close to five years of consecutive Afghanistan ops.
The six Tornados and their crew belong to 31 squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. They left Kandahar early morning on Tuesday 11 November, heading toward RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, which by no accident is the airbase that the Royal Air Force currently uses for air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) forces in Iraq and Syria. After a stopover, the aircraft will return home to the UK.
Over Afghanistan, the aircraft were used for close air support and intelligence gathering, using their Litening III and RAPTOR reconnaissance pods. Over Iraq and Syria, Tornados of 2 squadron target ISIS forces. The deployment of number 2 squadron to Akrotiri meant that disbandment of the unit, planned originally for next March, has been postponed by a year. It’s the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II that will eventually replace the Tornado in the Royal Air Force, with the Royal Navy also set to use the new fighter.
The Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force both join the US air forces in the first large scale Red Flag in the Nevada desert this year, held from 27 January to 14 February. Excellent work is being done by USAF staff photographers and we collected their best shots so far.
RAF Leuchars’s 6 Squadron sent its Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s fighters, with Panavia Tornado GR.4s strike aircraft from RAF Marham and a E-3D Sentry Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) from RAF Waddington joining in for the simulated combat. The Royal Australian Air Force sent McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet fighters and the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft.
Very well known with all military aviation enthousiasts: epicentre of the operations is Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, from where the participating aircraft will use the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The vast operations theatre consists of 4,700 square miles (7562 km2) of land and 15,000 square miles (24,135 km2) of airspace.
The Royal Air Force opened a nice photo gallery of Red Flag 2014 but from the US Air Force staff photographers we got even more excellent hi-res material which screams to be seen! AIRheads↑Fly sends compliments to the Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs office, and an especially warm thanks to the photographers: USAF airmen 1st class Jason Couillard, Joshua Kleinholz, Lorenz Crespo and Thomas Spangler.