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RAF Lakenheath breaks homestation limitations

Capt. Samuel Wozniak, a weapons systems officer assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron (FS), prepares to enter an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. The 492nd FS performed the core function of strike, or air-to-ground targeting, for the duration of Red Flag 19-3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Capt. Samuel Wozniak, a weapons systems officer assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron (FS), prepares to enter an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. The 492nd FS performed the core function of strike, or air-to-ground targeting, for the duration of Red Flag 19-3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Pilots assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron and maintainers assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare to launch an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. Members assigned to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, participated in Red Flag 19-3 to overcome homestation limitations and train at full capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Pilots assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron and maintainers assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prepare to launch an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. Members assigned to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, participated in Red Flag 19-3 to overcome homestation limitations and train at full capacity. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Airman 1st Class Owen Gaylord, a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), listens to the pilots conducting preflight inspections at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, inspections July 23, 2019. The 48th AMXS ensures consistent application of quality maintenance practices, equitable distribution of resources and successful training programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Airman 1st Class Owen Gaylord, a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), listens to the pilots conducting preflight inspections at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, inspections July 23, 2019. The 48th AMXS ensures consistent application of quality maintenance practices, equitable distribution of resources and successful training programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Airman 1st Class Owen Gaylord, a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), arranges aircraft tools at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. The 48th AMXS is a worldwide deployable unit, which conducts the inspection, generation and organizational maintenance of F-15E aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Airman 1st Class Owen Gaylord, a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS), arranges aircraft tools at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. The 48th AMXS is a worldwide deployable unit, which conducts the inspection, generation and organizational maintenance of F-15E aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Capt. Robert Hicks and Capt. Samuel Wozniak, F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crew assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, signal to Airman 1st Class Owen Gaylord, a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prior to takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. Red Flag 19-3 provides the pilots a 12,000 square-nautical mile range with some of the most realistic combat training available. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

Capt. Robert Hicks and Capt. Samuel Wozniak, F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crew assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, signal to Airman 1st Class Owen Gaylord, a tactical aircraft maintainer assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, prior to takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2019. Red Flag 19-3 provides the pilots a 12,000 square-nautical mile range with some of the most realistic combat training available. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Olivia Grooms)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

Pilots assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron (FS) and maintainers assigned to the 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) at RAF Lakenheath, England, operate as the core function of strike, or air-to-ground targeting, for the duration of Red Flag 19-3. This exercise provides air forces with some of the most realistic combat training available.

This opportunity to train at full capacity is not readily available to many participants at their home base.

“We’re limited a lot at home station by airspace and assets available to us, so this is essentially the best training range in the world,” said Maj. Arlen Walker, 492nd FS weapons shop flight commander. “You have lots of surface-to-air threats. You have an entire aggressor squadron and then the air space that allows you to fully utilize the aircraft’s capabilities. Essentially, none of that is available to us in England.”

Working in an exercise of this magnitude brings many challenges, including how to join forces on such a large scale.

“Everybody kind of stays in their own comfort bubble, and you have to force people to integrate,” said Walker.

Participants must overcome cultural differences between allies and learn how to work with coalition partners to prepare for real-world scenarios, said Senior Airman Daniel Smalls, 48th AMXS F-15E tactical aircraft maintainer.

Red Flag also gives the pilots and maintainers a better understanding of why they are a vital part of the mission.

“What we do is really important,” said Smalls. “You don’t realize it when you’re working every day, but when you’re in an exercise like this, and you’re actually preparing for real world threats, you get a better understanding of what it is that you’re actually doing. You have the pilots’ lives in your hands and whoever they’re supporting out there when they take off.”

As the exhausted maintainers give their final signals to launch the jets, the roaring sound of engines fills the air, and the pilots execute their mission in the U.S. Air Force’s largest air-to-air exercise.

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