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60 Seconds Out | Connect the Dots #6

As was the warning that crackled over the military scanner for one of the most exhilarating moments of the trip, this story is a short one.

- - - - -

As you may recall, we'd camped as close as we could to a random point in the middle of nowhere Nevada that an internet stranger had shared with me as one that had nearly uncountable - there were so many - low level military flyovers.

And again, as you may recall, we were only "as close as we could be" due to the fact that we'd run into the boundary of Area 51, our progress to the actual waypoint, halted by signs threatening death. Or worse.

Hoping for the best - but knowing from experience that the first flights don't start until 8:00am - I was up before sunrise in hopes of catching the first plane just off the desert floor.

Thirty minutes before sunrise, a few clouds caught the long rays of the sun.

Fifteen minutes before sunrise, the bright green spikes of the Joshua Trees contrasted splendidly with the changing sky.

Two minutes before sunrise, I was back at the Tacoma - with it's dusty desert shoes - contemplating a return to the warm comforters from which I'd ventured.

It was more than an hour later - perhaps even two - when we climbed out of the tent to greet the day. Naturally, we'd expected to have the tent ripped away by a low-flying bomber, but that pilot must have been out sick for the day. Instead, we heard jets high above - way above commercial traffic - their afterburners kicking in as they played in the sky.

"What should we do?" asked @mrs.turbodb.

The obvious answer was obvious. We'd gotten bum info and it was time to cut our losses. But as with most humans, the sunk cost fallacy runs strong through my veins, and I suggested that we hang out in camp until 11:00am, at which point - if we hadn't found the need for earplugs - we should just continue on our way towards Las Vegas.

It was 8:52am when I said that, and by 9:01am we were headed out - but not towards Vegas.

Listening to a few more jets, the roar seemed to be emanating from the adjacent valley, so after a bit of hemming and hawing, we decided to go park ourselves on the pass - the idea being that we'd double our chances of seeing something, and hopefully drop into the appropriate valley for even more excitement.

Sitting on the pass, we did - technically - see more, but only just barely.

And - though it may seem that the day was turning into a bust - this is where things got interesting. As we'd driven to the pass, we'd spotted three vehicles parked just off the road.

"I wonder if those guys are looking for planes too?" said the lady in the passenger seat.
"Nah, they're probably just out for a hike," I replied.
"On a Wednesday, in the middle of nowhere?" she asked.

It was a question that hung in the air, unanswered. Unanswered until I happened to glance up a nearby rise and - for the second time this trip - said "Give me the binoculars, I think there are people up there with cameras."

In fact, there were people up there with cameras, and the cameras had long lenses.
Holy smokes, they *weren't* out for a hike!

After a bit more back-and-forth, @mrs.turbodb convinced me - despite my embarrassment at the length of my longest lens - that we should at least head up to the top to introduce ourselves and see what was going on. So that's what we did.

Where you guys going?


Apparently, the wrong question to ask a bunch of guys when you find them in their secret photo spot is, "You guys do this often?" so naturally, that was the first thing out of my mouth. I followed that quickly with the only more inappropriate question in my arsenal, "Where else do you guys go?"

Awkward silence and non-subtle attempts to brush off the suggestion that they ever went plane spotting with their 600mm, $10,000 lenses were the only response, so @mrs.turbodb tried a different tact, asking more normal questions, like, "Where you guys from?"

Turns out we'd caught up with Jamie (and another British photographer), Chris (who owned a Tacoma), Derek (a Canadian nurse), and the reasonably local leader (from Vancouver, BC, Canada) of the group whose name we never caught. All of them - to a tee - quite welcoming once it was clear that we weren't there to out their special spot.

Just before 11:00am when we reached the summit, these "guys in the know" confirmed for us that there'd been no low-level activity so far, and that the morning wave of planes were largely on their way back to base. Bummer.

As they did, their scanners would pick up radio traffic - completely gibberish to us but meaningful to them - and from time to time they'd get excited to hear that a certain plane or another were flying in the sky above.

And then, Jamie got a text. Apparently - as is probably common in circles such as these - the guys were friends with some of the pilots, and had alerted them to the exact location they'd be sitting - for three days - hoping to snap some photos. Not only that, but - apparently - when the pilots know the photographers location, they often go out of their way to oblige the long lenses!

In that moment I learned two very important lessons: One, I've been doing it wrong in Death Valley all these years and (B), I need to make some new friends. But for now, that was neither here nor there.

And so, the wait began. There were nine planes that knew our location - two F-15Es and an F-15EX, and six F-35s, four of them Australian. With just under two hours on the practice range, there were two windows when they might drop in on us: either within the next hour as they arrived at the range, or in a little under three hours when they were on their way back to base.

Or maybe, not at all.

An hour passed, then two. We monitored the "squad" (sorry, I have no idea what to call this conglomeration of America's greatest) on the scanner. They were still in the air. The guys ate lunch. We stood there like the noobs we were.

And then, "SIXTY SECONDS OUT FROM THE PHOTO POINT," the scanner squawked.

All hell broke loose. Men turned into boys. Cameras - that cost more than many small cars - were pointed to the horizon.


"There it is, over the dry lakebed," yelled Chris, as shutters began to click, and everything became a blur.

Buzzed by an F-15EX (with OT tail). So badass.

Adrenaline was high for many minutes after that first plane went by. Apparently, there are only two F-15EXs in existence, so capturing one out here in the middle of nowhere was quite the win.

But soon we started asking, would there be more? We still had an hour until fuel reserves would be running low, but a quick glance between me and the huge grin on @mrs.turbodb's face all the confirmation I needed to know that we should hang out a little longer.

And the next two passes went similarly to the first. A call over the scanner with less than a minute to prepare; semi-organized chaos as shutters chattered away like machine guns; and then furious flipping through camera rolls, hoping that the perfect shot had been captured in the process.

Except for @mrs.turbodb - she was having a great time taking pictures of the picture takers.

Boys and their toys.

The second plane to come through was an F-15E with and ET tail and not-totally-gray paint scheme.

And the third flew below our position - less than 400 feet up - twice, one of the times no more than 200 feet off ground. Damn, that was rad.

I'd snapped more than a hundred photos in just seconds. The guys who knew what they were doing had an order of magnitude more. Plus, theirs were all in focus. But the winner in all of this craziness - at least as far as I was concerned - was @mrs.turbodb, who happened to catch one of the passes on video, the roar of the engines and snapping of shutters enough to take us back to those moments every time we watch.

The highlight reel.

So yeah, that was about the most awesome way to end a trip ever.



The Whole Story


  1. SK
    SK December 10, 2023

    ET=Eglin AFB which makes sense bc there is a F-15 test/eval squadron based there.
    OT=Cannon AFB which is interesting since they are (almost?) all special operations units

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 11, 2023

      I wasn't aware of the composition at the bases, but I was able to figure out (I thought I put it in the story, but apparently not) where the tail letters were from. Though, it looked to me like OT was also based out of (or could be based out of) Eglin?

  2. Eric Dustrude
    Eric Dustrude December 11, 2023

    I followed the fb link to get here thinking: "Dan says he needs new friends, maybe I can be his new friend". And then reading the post I realized you meant "friends in influential in-the-know places". Sigh, that's not me. I just wanna tag along for those epic trips.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 11, 2023

      🤣 Frankly, I'm always up for new friends, and always happy to hear when folks enjoy the stories! Now, if you can fanangle a few folks "in the know," as far as jet routes and pilot connections go, well, I might have to rearrange my exploration schedule for the forseable future!

  3. Bill Rambo
    Bill Rambo December 11, 2023

    USAF F-15, bad ass plane and great pictures and video!!!

    JOHN D MORAN December 11, 2023

    That was very nice, the video was very good, thanks for sharing. I don't believe it's any big secret where that is since many people have posted videos and info about the area and there really are some excellent videos of the fighters fling up the side of the mountain and then buzzing the area. I've considered driving out there but we get daily flyovers here since we're between Plant 42 & EAFB. F-35, U-2, B-2 & B-21, are frequent and daily it's a bunch of C-130 & C-17 plus KC-46 and other tankers and there is a special location (I think everyone in the valley knows it) where you can see them coming and going. You can get up close & personal on the ground with SR-71, A-12 at the Blackbird Air Park (part of the USAF Flight Test Museum) In Palmdale which is next to Plant 42 and the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, both free and open Thur-Sun. There is also a small museum building manned by some docents that can answer questions.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 11, 2023

      Man, that sounds pretty cool John! I don't know if it gets old for you to have those plans flying over all the time (we're in a commercial flight path, and I suppose it does for us, even though they're still ~5000 feet up), but I'd like to think that I'd really enjoy it.

      As for this location - I'm not sure it's the one you're thinking of (but maybe it is). Star Wars Canyon isn't used for low level stuff anymore, after the incident a few years ago (at least, to my knowledge). This is just a random place (ish) out in the Nevada desert, not all that close to DV.

      • JOHN D MORAN
        JOHN D MORAN December 11, 2023

        I think there are probably a number of places, we got buzzed by a couple of fighters very late at night while driving home in our truck. We were on Hwy 395 just south of Lone Pine and suddenly there was a huge noise, sounded like the end of the world and a huge sonic boom. I think they were only a few hundred feet up and I'll be they were having a good laugh afterward! Jet jockies have a sadistic sense of humor, LOL.

  5. Patrick Heyboer
    Patrick Heyboer December 11, 2023

    Pictures #2 and #4 are the best. I'm convinced that there are most Joshua trees where you were than in the NP. The part I went to anyway. Were the sanners just UHF handheld radios?

  6. David Devoucoux
    David Devoucoux December 12, 2023

    As a former Air Force Brat, and an Air Force Vet......I do love to see low level flights! Having photographer and videographer blood in my veins also raises my blood pressure to see these magnificent machines and men doing their thing in the desert!

    Thank you, Dan......

    P.S. the mines were pretty cool too!

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 12, 2023

      Thanks David, glad you enjoyed the story, photos, and in this case, a rare video!

      And, you may have noticed - or not - that I skipped part 5 of this story. Not to worry, it's on its way over the interwebs as I type, just wanted to get the F-15 video out earlier in the week rather than later due to some "logistics" on my end.

      Curious what your role in the USAF was? My Uncle was USAF as well, stationed in Florida, and working - in some way that I'm not sure exactly, with NASA. Seemed pretty cool when I was a little kid.

      • David Devoucoux
        David Devoucoux December 12, 2023

        Hi Dan,
        I was a radio announcer and tv producer/director with AFRTS. The American Forces Radio and Television Service. It was an enlisted slot. I enlisted and served in Arizona, Turkey and Colorado. Fun time. That was my college education and career desire since 5th grade. Fun times. After my service, I continued my career in audio/video and film production. Not much money but got to help lots of companies with videos and films for their marketing and sales efforts.
        Thanks for asking!

  7. Tim Augustine
    Tim Augustine December 13, 2023

    Excellent series, as usual.

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 16, 2023

      Thanks Tim! Had a great time out there (as usual 😉) - so much so that we're out again! 👍

  8. Keith DeMartini
    Keith DeMartini December 18, 2023

    Thats awesome! Ive had a few good low fly overs in saline valley!

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 18, 2023

      Nice! I've recently noticed - and I don't know if this is "new since they stopped using Star Wars Canyon" or not - that Saline is a great place for the low level fly-overs as well. On two "recent" trips, I had a couple really fun experiences there:

      Have fun out there!

      • Keith DeMartini
        Keith DeMartini December 20, 2023

        Yeah that's a bummer on Star Wars Canyon that was really easily accessible. Ill have to do some some internet searching to find your new spot those are some great fly byes!

  9. Craig Fuller
    Craig Fuller December 22, 2023

    It has been years since I have done this, but we used to plan a camping/exploring trip in the Rachel area around Red Flag exercises. More info including a list of upcoming dates at can be found here.
    Have seen a number of great low altitude flybys on those trips, including practically having a head-on collision with an A-10 as we crossed over Sheep Pass. Really wished I had a dash cam back then!
    -Craig @historyinthewild

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 27, 2023

      Yep, thanks for the tip! Already on the list for next year. 😉 Coincidentally, we happened to be there for Red Flag back in 2021 - on our first trip to the Pahranagat - without knowing it was Red Flag. Had an F-15 do a barrel roll over us while we were checking out some petroglyphs and experienced a ton of sonic booms as we were wandering around. An F-35 buzzed us as evening fell. We only found out later that Red Flag was even a thing, and it was only this year that I discovered (someone shared with me) dreamlandresort. Fingers crossed we get a good show!

  10. trey shumard
    trey shumard December 27, 2023

    That's awesome! We had two fighters fly right over us on Hunter Mountain road, but couldn't even get my phone unlocked before they were gone! I'd loved to know that they were coming!

    • turbodb
      turbodb December 27, 2023

      Very cool! I haven't had anything fly over on Hunter Mountain, but Saline Valley has been a gold mine for me. A C-17 buzzed us when we were climbing towards south pass, and I got to experience a couple of A-10s when I was hiking some of the canyons off of the valley. Always so exhilarating!

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