John (“Otter”) Stratton is a young American fighter pilot who flies the F-15 Eagle, arguably the most potent and successful fighter plane ever built. His grandfather was a decorated World War II flying ace, and he intended to follow in his footsteps. At Red Flag, the international training exercise for air forces of allied countries, many of the world’s best pilots meet for the most challenging flying of their careers. Red Flag is the final training for pilots and their aircrews before being sent into actual combat. We follow our young pilot as he makes his way through this extraordinary event held in the desert of Nevada. He is amazed at how complex, challenging and dangerous the exercises are. He begins to notice team members who were not a part of his childhood vision of heroism, the support team crucial to a successful mission, and to a safe return home. In the aerial combat exercises, there are other pilots who aren’t out just to prove themselves, they are helping him — watching his back. And he is doing the same for them. He begins to realize that being a hero is not quite as simple as he once might have thought.
Directed by Stephen Low and presented by Boeing, the film shows how airmen simulate a war without killing one another, as well as the training of military air base firemen, military ordnance crews, midair refueling operations, cockpit views, and other aspects of aerial combat. The film was released in December 2004.
The exercise simulates an air war without firing actual weapons using NACTS (Nellis Air Combat Training System). The participating aircraft, carrying specialized telemetry pods or other equipment, send back telemetry information to a computer, and when they have “fired,” the computer figures out who is “hit.” Color codes during computer replay debriefs offer a way of telling participants apart, with blue planes representing friendly forces and red planes representing enemy forces in the exercise.
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