Mach Loop: The Valley of Fighter Jets

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Nestled between the towns of Dolgellau and Machynlleth, in central Wales, is a series of grass covered valleys that is renowned the world over among photographers and aviation enthusiast for being one of the best places in the world to watch fighter jets in action. This area is referred to as Low Flying Area 7, but is better known as the Mach Loop.

The Mach Loop, which gets its name from the nearby town of Machynlleth, is essentially a roundabout for low level air traffic that snakes around the mountain peaks. Aircrafts such as Tornados, Typhoons, Hawks and F-15E Strike Eagles race through the narrow valley, hugging the ground as it twists and turns around the mountains. The machines fly dangerously close to the terrain, sometimes as low as 100 feet off the ground, at speeds over 500 miles per hour. Viewers can get so close to the scene of action that during flybys one can clearly see the pilots inside the cockpits.

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A Tornado GR4 at Mach Loop. Photo credit: Jez/Flickr

Low level flying has several tactical advantages, such as flying below enemy radar to avoid detection, and evading engagement from other aircrafts or attacks from the ground. Low flying is a demanding skill that can only be acquired through progressive training and continuous practice. The Royal Air Force uses several areas within the United Kingdom for low level flight training. Because low level flying can be noisy, they are distributed all around the United Kingdom, “to share any potential impact of this training activity as fairly as possible across all the population”, says the RAF.

“The cool thing about Mach Loop, and why so many photographers climb those steep, muddy hills and often camp out to capture the action, is the variety of aircraft that flies by,” writes Tyler Rogoway for Jalopnik. “The regulars are USAF F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Typhoons, along with C-130s, Hawk Trainers, and various helicopters, but visitors do pop up, like A-10s or Saudi Tornadoes, or even Qinetiq test aircraft.”

The RAF publishes a timetable of upcoming low level trainings, so that the local population can prepare beforehand, such as keep livestock away from the region, etcetera.

Those in the United States wishing to witness such a spectacle can head to the Rainbow Canyon, in the Death Valley National park in California, where there is an area known to the military as the R2508 Complex. Although not quite as scenic as the Mach Loop, the Rainbow Canyon is one of the best, both in terms of the frequency of aircrafts flying overhead and the relative ease of seeing them. In fact, there are hundreds of low-level flying routes in the US, but very few are so picturesque and many are empty most of the time.

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Typhoon T1. Photo credit: Jez/Flickr

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Hercules. Photo credit: Jonny Williams/Flickr

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Tornado GR4. Photo credit: Jez/Flickr

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Hawk T1. Photo credit: Jez/Flickr

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Tornado GR4. Photo credit: Jez/Flickr

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F15C Eagle. Photo credit: Jason Humphries-Brown/Flickr

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F-15E Eagle. Photo credit: Jez/Flickr

Sources: Airspacemag / www.gov.uk / Wikipedia / Telegraph

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