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RED FLAG Sharpens war-fighting skills

NELLIS AFB, Nev. -- Four B-2s and 135 people deployed from the 13th Bomb Squadron Jan. 12 to join personnel from 23 United States and United Kingdom bases for a RED FLAG exercise at here.

"RED FLAG is a large force integration exercise designed to give pilots and maintainers a taste of combat," said Lt. Col. Bill Eldridge, 13th BS commander. "RED FLAG simulates the threats and coordination required to fight an integrated air and ground conflict."

This RED FLAG is the second time the 13th BS has deployed as a unit, Colonel Eldridge said.

The mission at RED FLAG is to fight, learn and integrate, the colonel said.

This also the first time that the new Link-16 system was used by the B-2 at RED FLAG.

Link-16 is a communications system that provides a picture of the combat airspace including all friendly and threat aircraft and ground targets.

"The pilots have learned a lot about Link-16," Colonel Eldridge said. "They are now to the point where they can begin using it for targeting and de-confliction."

This exercise is broken into two parts with a week break in between. After the first portion of RED FLAG, the 13th BS will return to Whiteman Saturday.

Whiteman participates in two RED FLAG exercises a year.

During this RED FLAG, the Reapers have flown both morning and evenings to train for day and night operations.

As with any deployment, maintenance operations for the B-2 can be challenging with the lack of hangers able to support and maintain the B-2. One aircraft required low observable maintenance which must be kept at a certain temperature.

The LO shop was able to overcome their hardship by using extra plastic to create a "bubble" workspace and protect their work from the outside elements by taping it to the aircraft.

The structural maintenance shop applied tape to seal panels on the B-2. In order for the chemicals to seal the tape to the aircraft, the tape needs to be maintained at a temperature higher than 65 degrees, said Staff Sgt. Joel Sneddy, 509th Maintenance Squadron structural maintenance shop.

An aircraft ground equipment heater was then used to keep the temperature inside the "bubble" above the required temperature.

"I believe this is the first time we have used this type of structure for maintenance," Sergeant Sneddy said.

Another milestone in stealth air power will be achieved during the second portion of this RED FLAG exercise.

This year will be the first time the B-2 will fly and coordinate at RED FLAG with the Air Force's newest stealth asset, the F-22 Raptor. The 1st Fighter Wing from Langley AFB, Va. will send a squadron of F-22s to participate in RED FLAG for the first time. The Raptors will not arrive until the second portion of the exercise.

Except for the higher ops tempo, day-to-day operations are similar to those at Whiteman.
Maintenance crews prepare the B-2 by servicing systems and completing inspections to ensure the aircraft are ready to fly. One change is that two pilots preflight the B-2s and set systems for the days flying.

With engines warm and running, the preflight crews exchange places with the pilots scheduled to fly that day and with only a few minor adjustments of personal preference, seat position for example, the B-2s are ready for flight.

One after another, two B-2s taxi past its predecessor, the B1-B Lancer, and a squadron of F-16s to the end of the runway to await clearance for takeoff.

The Nellis air traffic controllers handle up to 50 aircraft at any given time, coordinating fighters, bombers and cargo planes from US and NATO forces to the appropriate taxiways and runways for departure and landing and avoiding any aircraft running into one another and runway congestion, said Airman 1st Class Robert Grotefend, 57th Operations Support Squadron airfield management.

"The air traffic controllers here are dedicated Airmen who display the core values of the Air Force and ensure the most realistic combat training possible for NATO forces on global scale," said Senior Master Sgt. Jurkiewicz, 13th BS first sergeant. This RED FLAG will be the last for Sergeant Jurkiewicz. He will retire Thursday.

With clearance for take-off, the B-2s speed down the runway and defy gravity as they lift from the surface and vanish in the distance.

"The RED FLAG staff has succeeded brilliantly," Colonel Eldridge said. "Our pilots have each flown two to three sorties learning and integrating with other services and the royal air force. By training hard in a simulated high-threat environment, combat in the future should be easier."