Movie Review: Fighter Pilot Operation Red Flag

Image Entertainment, 2005.
Topic: Military Fighter Pilot

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag is a documentary originally produced for IMAX.  It has a nominal plot, following a single F-15 fighter pilot as he participates in Red Flag at Nellis AFB, Nevada.  The primary officer is Captain John Stratton, who also narrates as he plans, flies, and acts as a simulated evader during combat exercises in the Nevada desert.

The film has some almost comical flaws (or theatrical necessities, depending on how you view them).  For example, during the film Stratton flies virtually the entire time with his visor up.  Fighter pilots generally fly with dark tinted visors; on some days, the bright sun on white clouds can be nearly blinding.  While you can see Stratton squint at his surroundings, it was theatrically necessary for his visor to be up so they could film his face.  During the filming of the airborne command and control, an officer in a flight suit leans over the enlisted radar operator’s shoulder and gives orders; in fact, the enlisted controllers are some of the most competent and professional Airmen in the operational Air Force, and likely require little input from a watch officer.

Some of the flight formations and tactics are misrepresented, but this is understandable given that the objective of the film is to present a compelling visual; few people realize that aircraft don’t fly wingtip-to-wingtip into combat, but it wouldn’t look as cool if it was shown as it really occurs.

Those negatives aside, the film has some excellent aircraft imagery and flight video.  In some DVD formats, there are whole montages of aircraft in flight set to the soundtrack.  Virtually every Air Force aircraft is shown, some are shown aerial refueling, and many are delivering weapons and executing tactics.  In addition, all the people in the film are real—not actors.

In a nod to the rest of the Air Force (not just the fighter pilots), the film also shows the maintainers and munitions troops (the bomb-builders) hard at work, often in the middle of the night.  There is even a short clip of the mundane FOD walk, when maintainers walk a line across the ramp and collect any debris that might get sucked into jet engines.

Given that the plot is mostly a device for presenting cool video, there’s little to say about it.  Air Force officership, conduct, and religion don’t really enter the picture.  Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag is, in some respects, a gratuitous opportunity to show some very impressive airplane videos.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Recommended.  Those that are only marginally interested in military aviation would probably be bored by the film.  For those that have an avid interest in aircraft and military operations, however, it is highly recommended.

This movie is available from Amazon.