My brother and I visited Star Wars Canyon in the summer of 2019 for one week to shoot some low level aviation action. What a treat we had with F-18s, F-15s, F-35s, F-16s, a T-38 and even a B-52, not to mention several earthquakes!
Known locally as Rainbow Canyon, this staggeringly beautiful location lies in the northeastern reaches of the Mojave Desert at the western side of the Death Valley National park in Inyo County, California. The canyon is 5.5 miles long and sits at the end of the Jedi Transition, a route between point C and point J of the Sidewinder low level training route. Fighters and other military aircraft use this route to enhance their low level flying skills as they thread their multimillion dollar jets through this tight valley. The Jedi transition allows pilots to miss out a section of the Sidewinder from Owens Lake, just south of Lone Pine (Point C), and drop into Panamint Valley at Point J. The area is teaming with military aircraft activity including air-to-air practice, mid-air refuelling and other training taking place throughout the day and night.
We arrived in California just two days after the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that rocked Ridgecrest on July 4th and took NAWS China Lake out of action until the 11th July. Throughout the week we felt several aftershocks from this quake, including 4.5 and 4.4 magnitude quakes – definitely not what you want to feel when sitting precariously on a few boulders that are perched on several hundred feet of loose scree on a sheer cliff edge!
Always a pleasure to see RAF Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing low level in Wales with their F-15s. These C models, callsign GATOR 11-14, were from the famed 493rd FS ‘The Grim Reapers’. Interesting to note the Sniper Pod on the lead jet.
The 493rd Fighter Squadron, the Grim Reapers, paid us a visit on the 7th July in the Mach loop with their F-15Cs. These guys really are impressive at low level, and this was the first time I managed to capture them in The Mach Loop.
Firstly apologies for the wind noise, even my fluffy couldn’t handing the wind from the day! 💨
The Reaper pilots did seem to be really using aerodynamic breaking on this day. I’m pretty sure the first guy dropped his nose at the exact point he got alongside us, complete with a fist pump 🤙👊😎
I’ve decided to do the same and split the morning recoveries into the three different aircraft types we saw flying on the day. These are the F-15Cs and Ds from the 493rd Fighter Squadron, The Grim Reapers.
A slightly odd beginning to RIAT for me as I was stuck in Italy after the jet I was flying back to the UK on suffered an inflight emergency. This meant that I missed the first arrivals on Wednesday and arrived late on Thursday!
Anyway, here are the movements I caught on the 16th July.