Real life rebel pilots! Incredible photos show fighter jets zipping through narrow Star Wars Canyon
- The U.S. military uses an area of California's Death Valley National Park nicknamed Star Wars Canyon as a training site for fighter jet pilots
The area has become so popular that the National Park Service is considering making it an attraction
- Photographers camp out in the area waiting for jets to speed through the narrow canyon
Silence and stillness settled over the deep, sunbaked gorge as a pair of photographers sat on a cliff, waiting.Then the rumbling started. As it grew louder, they scrambled into position.Within seconds, a thunderous roar reverberated from the steep, narrow canyon as an F-18 fighter jet streaked through it, passing beneath their feet. It came so close they could see the pilots' expressions.This deafening show that was over in a flash is a fairly common sight at Death Valley National Park, 260 miles east of Los Angeles, where U.S. and foreign militaries train pilots and test jets in the gorge nicknamed Star Wars Canyon.Photographers - some capturing images for work, others for fun - along with aviation enthusiasts and others have been traipsing to the remote 4,688-square-mile park in growing numbers to see the jets soaring below the rim of what's officially called Rainbow Canyon, near the park's western entrance.
The U.S. military uses an area of Death Valley National Park nicknamed 'Star Wars Canyon' to train fighter jet pilots. Above, an F-15E Strike Eagle from Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina flies out of the canyon on February 27
The area has become popular with photographers who camp out waiting for the perfect shot, like this one of a F/A-18F Super Hornet on February 27
The area has become so popular with photographers that the National Park Service is considering turning it into an official attraction. Above, a Beechcraft T-6 Texan II trainer from Sheppard AFB in Texas flies through the canyon on February 27
A FA/18E Super Hornet from NAS Lemoore flies through Star Wars Canyon on February 28
A F/A-18D Hornet from the VX-9 Vampire squadron at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, flies out of Star Wars Canyon toward the Panamint range in Death Valley National ParkIt earned its nickname because its mineral-rich soil and rocky walls in shades of red, gray and pink draw to mind a landscape in a galaxy far, far away - Tatooine, the home planet of 'Star Wars' character Luke Skywalker.The unusually close-up view of military planes zooming through the craggy gorge has become so popular the National Park Service is considering making it an attraction, with informational signs about the training that dates back to World War II.Park Service officials recently discussed erecting signs and possibly paving a spot for cars because so many people are driving to the canyon to see the training, park spokeswoman Abby Wines said.Wines understands the rush people get from seeing the jets up close. Once she was doing technical canyoneering, hanging from a rope on a 180-foot vertical, when a jet roared over her head but below the canyon rim.
Photographer Jason O. Watson waits on a cliff overlooking Star Wars Canyon in Death Valley National Park
Watson looks through a telephoto lens on a cliff overlooking Star Wars Canyon on February 28
A F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-24 squadron at NAS Lemoore banks in front of the Panamint range while exiting Star Wars Canyon on February 27
A F/A-18D Hornet with the VX-9 Vampire squadron from Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, banks over Star Wars Canyon on February 27
An F-15C Eagle from the California Air National Guard, 144th Fighter Wing, flies out of Star Wars Canyon on February 28
A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II from the 323 Squadron, Royal Netherlands Air Force flies through Star Wars Canyon on February 28'It's the loudest thing I have ever heard in my life,' she said. 'It was a scary experience since I was holding onto the rope and not anything else.' She also felt a sense of awe.But on days when one jet passes after another, the noise gets to her.Elsewhere in the park, the jets also have made it tough when performing the living history show at Scotty's Castle, a Spanish mission-style villa reflecting early California architecture. The villa recently closed until further notice because of flood damage. But when it was open, it was 'disruptive to act like it is 1939 while two military jets are circling, pretending to be in a dogfight above your head,' Wines said.On a February day, planes careened through Star Wars Canyon 18 times. One pilot performed barrel rolls over the pass.Jets zip through the gorge at 200 to 300mph and can fly as low as 200 feet from the canyon floor. But the canyon's walls are so steep, the aircraft are still several hundred feet below the rim.
Vapor trails are seen forming on an F/A-18E Super Hornet piloted by Thomas 'Tom' P. McGee of the VX-9 Vampire squadron from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake on February 28
Lt. Cmdr. Ian "Elf" Kibler of the VX-9 Vampire squadron from Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, banks his F/A-18E Super Hornet through the nicknamed Star Wars Canyon on February 27
An F-15C Eagle from the California Air National Guard, 144th Fighter Wing, flies through Star Wars Canyon on February 28
A F/A-18D Hornet from the VX-9 Vampire squadron at Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake, flies out of Star Wars Canyon toward the Panamint range on February 27
Thomas "Tom" P. McGee of the VX-9 Vampire squadron from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, flies an F/A-18E Super Hornet toward the sun over Death Valley National Park on February 28Training at the canyon doesn't happen every day, so the photographers who make the trek to see them sometimes sit in folding chairs, waiting in the heat, and spy no jets at all.Jason Watson, who works in information technology at Stanford University's law school and does freelance photography, recently made his seventh trip to the gorge.He's seen as many as 30 photographers spread out across the mile-long rim at different vantage points.'You can meet anyone from anywhere in the world there,' Watson said.The photographers develop a comradery as they share in the thrill of standing above the speedy jets.The aviators interact with them too, giving a thumbs-up or even flashing a 'Hi Mom' sign as they whiz by.'They know the photographers are there,' Watson said. 'They're aware of the following.'
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