These are the amazing scenes which show a Russian-built fighter jet taking on a US Air Force F-16 in a mock dogfight – in what could be a sign that America is preparing for the possibility of war with Moscow.
According to Drake, the aircraft in the photographs are a single seater Sukhoi Su-27P and America’s veteran F-16.
He was visiting the desert surrounding Area 51 on November 8, the day of the Presidential election. He hoped to see some fast jets involved in a training mission.
The 42-year-old enthusiast from Hampshire in the UK said he thinks his images are the first of such an encounter in the United States.
He 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.
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.
‘Initially, during the mission, the aircraft were just outside of Area 51 airspace.
‘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.
‘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.’
Area 51 is one of the most secretive locations in the world. The Nevada-based military testing facility has been a focal point of many conspiracy theorists and UFOlogists since the late 1970s, who claim that the base houses secretive alien technology.
The sprawling military complex sits between a dry lake bed to the north-east, and a small mountain to the west. It has long been fenced off from the public, with armed guards swarming the surrounding area.
The site has been confirmed as an historic test site for military aircraft.
Famous machines developed there include the U-2 spy plane, SR-71 Blackbird, and the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter.