A curious sight was observed in the skies above Area 51 in Nevada, on November 8, the day Donald Trump was elected President, by vacationing air traffic controller Phil Drake. According to Drake, the photographs below all taken by him, show a Russian-built Su-27P fighter jet taking on a US Air Force F-16 engaged in a mock dogfight training mission.
Drake, a 42-year-old enthusiast from Hampshire in the UK, told the Mail he was visiting the desert surrounding Area 51 on the day of the Presidential election, and hoped to see some fast jets involved in a training mission. Instead, what he photographed appears to have been Russian Su-27 involved in a combat training with a US fighter jet.
Drake said the Russian jet was a Su-27P Flanker-B, which has never been officially imported into the United States.
"This aircraft was anonymous and unidentifiable, apart from the Soviet style camouflage it wore," he said. "After they finished their mission they flew into Groom Lake's highly restricted airspace." Shooting from Tikaboo Valley, near Groom Lake (Area 51's official name), Drake had to push his camera zoom to the limit to document the incident.
Drake's location outside Area 51
He said: "The planes were operating above 20,000 feet, and a couple of miles east of me, so the distance between me and the planes was at least six miles. They were literally specks in the sky, but of course that's the reason that no-one has photographed them before.
Drake believes these are the first pictures of a single-seat Sukhoi Su27 Flanker - on a training mission or otherwise - inside the United States.
"The Americans practice air to air combat with Russian aircraft to give them an advantage in combat. They also try out new weapons systems on aircraft to test their effectiveness against a bona fide Russian-built target."
According to Drake, "the Flanker is rumoured to have been flying from Groom Lake for nearly 20 years, but no-one has ever managed a definitive photograph to prove it does exist. This sequence of photos is the first proof that the Americans are flying this aircraft, which is the premier Air Defence Fighter in use with the Russian and Chinese Air Forces."
He continued: "Things went quiet around 1300. Very quiet. Nothing moved for two hours and I was thinking of moving to another vantage point, such as Queen City Summit, or maybe the Powerlines Overlook. Then the sound of jet noise caught my attention and that's when I got my first sight of a Groom Lake Su-27 Flanker."
"Flying NE at around 30,000 feet leaving an intermittent contrail. The time was 1500 and the sun was moving to the west as the Flanker and a F-16 gave me a private 25 minute air display. The pair seemed to perform a series of head on intercepts at descending altitudes from 30,000 feet to around 20,000 feet, only a mile or two to the east of me. This meant they were beautifully illuminated by the afternoon sun. After the head on intercept, the pair would break into a turning dogfight, with the Flanker using it tremendous maneuverability to try and get behind the F-16. "
"I took a long series of photographs, but as the aircraft were fairly high my autofocus couldn't cope. I had to shoot in manual mode, constantly moving the focusing ring to attempt to get some reasonable images. The Su-27 was clearly a single seater, a Su-27P Flanker-B."
"This Flanker was in the classic 1990's two-tone blue colour scheme, with white nose and white fin tips. A very different aeroplane. There had been rumours that the US had obtained two single seat Flankers from Belarus in 1996 or 1997, so I figured it should have been one of them."
"After the final dogfight, when I was lucky enough to catch on camera the F-16 flashing directly in front of the Flanker, the pair climbed back to 30,000 feet or so, and headed SW back into Groom Lake restricted airspace. Interestingly the Flanker left a solid contrail, while the F-16 left none despite being at a similar altitude."
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There has been no official statement from either the US Air Force, the Dept of Defense or Dept of Energy, on these curious, perhaps historic, photographs emanating from one of the most secretive US army bases in the world.