Thursday, July 22

Read n' reviewed: Aircraft of Red Flag: Air-to-Air Exercises from Key Publishing

Being big fans of the "Aggressors" of the "Red Flag" exercises and the pilots who fly them, we were very interested to see this recent title from Key Publishing "Aircraft of Red Flag: Air-to-Air Exercises". It features aircraft from all around the world at the regular fly-off competition in Nevada. We have read it, see our show and tell of the contents in our review...
Aircraft of Red Flag: Air-to-Air Exercises
Authors: Scott Cuong Tran and Nick Tran
Published by: Key Publishing
Ref: no#KB0029
128 pages
Softcover, landscape format
24.5cm x 16.5cm
Over 140 full-colour photographs
Price: £17.99
Product Link on the Key Publishing Website
Most aircraft modellers are fans of the "Top Gun" competition of the US Navy and the "Aggressor" aircraft from the US Air Force "Red Flag" events. These opposing aircraft used to give not only different schemes to choose from, but other interesting aircraft that might not be seen anywhere else fighting and flying under different colours and flags as to the ones than they are used to.

The book's physical form
This new book from Key Publishing covers the aircraft of the USAF "Red Flag" competition that operates from of Edwards Air Force base in Nevada near Las Vegas about three times every year. The authors Scott Cuong Tran and Nick Tran have compiled a book with English text of one hundred and twenty-eight pages in an unusual portrait format of 24.5cm x 16.5cm (9.5 x 6.5 inches) in a softcover book that is not at all a weighty thing, but a small book that can handle the natural perspective of aircraft flying from one side to another in the over one hundred and forty large format photos in this landscape format book.
Divided into seven main chapters, an introduction, a guide on photographing the event and an epilogue, the coverage of the event in this book is pretty thorough. the aircraft captured in the pages are pretty modern, ranging from Raptors to Vipers, Superbugs to Stratotankers, Herks to Warthogs, Tornados to Lightnings, and Skyhawks to L39 Honey Badgers, there is an impressive array of different aircraft here for spotters, modellers and enthusiasts alike.
We will now go through the book chapter to chapter and give you an outline of what is inside.

Page to page - Aircraft of Red Flag: Air-to-Air Exercises...
The authors give us a very nice introduction to familiarize ourselves with the setting of the Red Flag exercises. Where they are and how often, the location and then in a guide almost, called "Photographing Red Flag", they explain the locations, times of day and best spots to photograph these aircraft on take-off and recovery (landing). This sure is a handy guide to anyone wanting to attend the event and to hit the ground running with some local knowledge, forewarned is forearmed,.
The first chapter covers the support aircraft of Red Flag. As the book says "No one kicks ass without gas" and not only Stratotankers, but Hercules of search and rescue SEAD electronic warfare tasks, E-3 sentry and E-8C aircraft along with the Air Force's HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters are all featured in this section. The shots are mostly aircraft passing from one side to the other, with some excellent shots of underneath the bellies of some of these kites in particular. the helpful text from the authors adds insight into some of the more interesting features of these aircraft, and it is a feature repeated in every chapter of this book.
The bombers of the strategic interdiction forces are a large part of the Red Flag event, and after a short introduction to the aircraft, we see the same, large-format photographs of heavy metal from the US Air Force in the shape of the B-1 Bomber but also the venerable B-52. Flying with the friendly "blue" forces, these aircraft are here to fly in contested airspace.
"Blue Force" is the "friendly" team of the event and they are comprised of the USAF and international allies who are competing in the event. Reading the comments I found out a few things about the event and aircraft. For instance, the pilots often tipping a wing so the spectators on the ground get a better shot of their aircraft as they land and take off, the aircraft called the "Mud hen" by its pilots and the participation of US Navy and Marine fighters being present. 
Not only the obligatory F-15's F-16', F-35 Lightnings, F-22 Raptors and A-10's are involved, but also F-18 Superbugs and US Army Apaches are seen here in large format photos flying, landing and taking off from the event. Interesting features of the aircraft, especially the F-22 raptors and the discolouration of the radar absorbing paint are examples of the points of interest brought up by the authors when discussing these aircraft in the text that accompanies the photos.
Aha! the "Red Force" guess who these guys serve? One of the main attractions of "Red Flag" are the Aggressor aircraft of Red Force, with their multitude of Soviet, Chinese and Middle Eastern-themed camouflage schemes. This chapter covers the aggressors flown by the USAF in the form of twenty F-16's of the 64th Aggressor Squadron of the 57th Air Wing. These aircraft are seen in these pages in several striking schemes you may know well and love, and some I had not seen before. including the simple grey overall "Have Glass" scheme that looks plain, but has radar-absorbing paint on its very dulled down exterior. Favourites like the Lizard, Shark Ghost and arctic schemed vipers are seen flying and "flexing" to the camera spotters below in this chapter... 
Independent aircraft contractors like Draken International play a significant part in the bolstering of the full-time USAF Aggressor contingent nowadays. It is in this chapter we read and see the aircraft of the companies that supply the "Red" force with extra numbers and alternate airframes to differentiate the combat experiences for "Blue Force" during Red Flag. Ex-RNZAF Skyhawks, L-39 "Honey Badgers" (upgraded  L39 Albatross) in various schemes and even a two-seater F-1M Mirage are seen here at the event.
Another major part of Red Flag are the international guests who come to fly and to fight it out in the event. Of the over twenty-nine foreign participants of the past Red FLags, this book features several nation's aircraft, RAF Typhoons, Hercules, KC-3 Voyager tanker, an RC 135 and an F-35. The RAAF from Australia with the E-7A Wedgetail surveillance and communications aircraft, EA-18G Growlers and F-18F Super Hornets of several types and even an Italian Eurofighter Typhoon and an F-35 Lightning II is captured at the event.
The German Airforce is a constant entrant in the event, and we see here some colourful and interesting aircraft from the Luftwaffe and Spain in the forms of Typhoons, several Tornados fully laden and on tight approaches and even an RCAF Globemaster is in this chapter.
Not to be overlooked, and a bit of a bonus to this book is the last chapter, the other residents of Edwards AFB  in Nevada are the USAF Thunderbirds Air Display Team for the USAF. This team often trains in the vicinity of the spotters and camera (persons)­čśü and you see many great shots that look like they are taken from just the right angle to capture the thunderbirds in formation. Although not part of the Red Flag event, the Thunderbirds of Edwards AFB are a great addition to the end of the book and agreat way to round out the title.
After a short Epilogue and glossary of end notes to explain some of the aspects throughout the book that is all they wrote!

Aircraft of Red Flag: The Ultimate Air-to-Air Combat Exercises has one or two things I would want to add. The binding of the book must also be treated carefully when opening pages. I would suggest that the reader simply be careful when opening the book to read it and not bend the book too much while the binding stretches during your first read, the book soon becomes more flexible.

The lack of close-up photos and air to air shots is a bummer. I do understand that these cannot be easily attained unless a photographer has access to the base and to the pilots or the aircraft. This would be first on my wish list if I was making a book like this. I suppose this only comes with access that a few of us could only dream of. Maybe in part II guys?

I suppose then this could be considered to be a substantial upgrade to those earlier "Superbase" books from Osprey that covered a base's aircraft in one title, just that this one has many other aircraft from all around the world to add to the experience. The authors must also be commended as this book is very well written and the photographs of the subjects have interesting text that adds to the experience of seeing Red Flag in person, as well as how to get to see it!

Adam Norenberg

You can get this book directly from Key Publishing shop online, if you are already a subscriber, you can get this book for a £2 discount