I hit the ranges on the afternoon of March 8, just in time to miss the really good shots on Coyote Summit. [In hindsight, I should have stayed in the parking lot instead of climbing the hill.]
This particular flag had late afternoon sessions (about 3PM to 5PM at Coyote Summit) and night sessions from 9PM to 11PM in the Nellis ranges, with much night activity at the new Keno landing strip. Since many are familiar with the activities at Coyote Summit, I'll focus on the night events. For whatever reason, both weapons school and red flag like to keep the night operations a bit more to the north than the daylight flag. This may be to respect the noise sensitive region of Rachel. [Please, don't laugh too hard.] I spent 3 nights near the Keno landing strip. On Monday night at about 10:30PM, while parking near the ranch house, I heard a noise of a prop plane. I looked around and didn't see it, but out of no where, a C130 flew right over me, using only it's flashers. It landed on the keno strip (as seen with night vision), and then took off about about 10 minutes later. Another plane (or maybe the same plane) landed about 10:50PM and by 11PM took off. The plane(s) headed towards Queen City Summit, hugging the hills to the north near Reveille.
On Tuesday morning I got a visit from Mr. "I Can't Say" regarding what I was doing in the area of the ranch. I gather than plane watching was not the right answer, nor was it good to have photo and scanner gear in plain sight. All he was packing was a radio as far as I could tell, hidden in the small of his back, but quite visible when the wind blew back his jacket. Since the TTR exists, you would think these guys could be a bit more friendly than your average camo dude. [Camo dudes can't talk to you because they work for some non-existent operation, but the TTR is not a secret.] Had the guy been a bit nicer, I would have offered some of the shade grown Mexican coffee from my French press, but with his attitude, no way!
Tuesday night's show at the KENO was a bit different. This time I parked in the meadow area (maybe flat area is a better description) much closer to the airstrip than the ranch, but probably still a mile away. At about 10:45PM, a large plane (probably C130) approached from the south, then headed south west towards the TTR and set off some flares. It stayed on the ranch side of the pass and landed. Around 11PM, a plane out of nowhere (but probably the KENO strip) came right at me, passing slightly to my south by 100ft. It was blacked out except for flashers. In the moonlight, I could ID the C130 shape. This plane headed towards Queen City Summit by flying over the meadow portion of the ranch, rather than hugging the hills. The plane was on the deck. I'll say it was 150ft off the ground. As you know, it is a few miles to the summit, so this was a long trip at this low altitude.
Thursday night was a yet a different route. This time I could see the planes approaching over the hills near the TTR. The first plane to get over the pass set off an array of flares. You could see the plane with your naked eye using the light of the flares. The second plane didn't do any countermeasures. They flew towards Coyote Summit rather than Queen City Summit.
While the flags were fun, Weapons School was quite active. They had a morning session towards the north, and would bomb the 60's ranges (61,62, etc) in the evening. One event I scanned was interesting in that the hardware just plain wasn't working. The guy on the ground with the laser wasn't painting the target quite right. They did the usual "check the batteries", and then tried different laser illuminators. Personally, I think Microsoft is to blame. The event started out with the pilot describing the target as a "medium sized building with people around it." Then he said "Confirm those are not real people." Hey, that's a good thing to confirm. I'm sure the range crew has a sense of humor, so these people targets could be Sadam manikins, Osamma, etc.
If you leave your scanner on the Fox 4 freq, you can often hear the weapons school ground crew leave the area. They maintain the same callsign as they had when interfacing with the airplane.
The only shocker was the price of gas. In Tonopah, where you usually get hit the hardest, it was $189.9 for regular, where in Vegas regular was $2.10 or so. I guess they missed the memo from Halliburton gouge the public.