Air Force pilots during the Vietnam War normally had a tour of 100 missions over North Vietnam. A disproportionate number of losses occurred during the first 10 missions of a tour. Pilots were simply overwhelmed by the requirements of flying combat in an incredibly dense air defense environment, in larger strike packages than they had ever practiced before.
Accordingly, the Air Force instituted Red Flag, an ongoing series of massive mock air battles over the Southwestern United States, with the goal of giving each aircrew its “first 10” in peacetime, rather than actual war. Large numbers of squadrons accross the entire spectrum of airpower would deploy to Nellis AFB just outside of Las Vegas. This package would closely resemble the actual force composition of a real air campaign, if on a somewhat smaller scale. Dedicated adversary fighter squadrons would play the role of an opposing air force. Complex, realistic ground based air defense threats were seeded throughout the training area, all in an attempt to provide a scenario that was “more real” than the real thing.
To this day, Red Flag is the capstone training exercise for Air Force units.
Friend of the blog ORPO1, a retired Navy Petty Officer, currently makes his living working as a contractor for the US Air Force, supporting the 416th Flight Test Squadron, responsible for ongoing engineering development for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. As as ED effort, the 416th, despite flying fighters, is an asset of Air Force Material Command.
In an unusual effort to provide a more realistic test environment, and validate the skills of the test pilots, the 416th deployed to Red Flag 2-12. And ORPO1 was right there with them. If you watch closely, you might even see his bald head a time or two.