Flying combat operations with a high degree of efficacy requires a broad skill set and, as some pilots describe it, “supreme confidence” in your ability to manage both the situation and the $90 million worth of supersonic state secrets secured to your ejection seat. America’s fighter pilots average about three times the flight experience of their peers in nations like Russia or China. That’s thanks to the amount of money America is willing to devote to ensuring its pilots are not only flying in technologically-capable airframes, but that they have the stick time they need to leverage all of that technology in a combat environment without a split second’s hesitation.
Familiarity with your aircraft can only come through experience, and the only way to develop that “supreme confidence” is to be exposed to different environments and circumstances in training. Enter Star Wars Canyon, or to some, the Jedi Transition.
Star Wars Canyon, which is actually called Rainbow Canyon, is located near the western edge of Death Valley National Park in California’s Inyo County. The canyon is commonly used by both the United States Air Force and Navy for low-level flight training. Pilots take their jets down as low as 200 feet (or lower) to maneuver around the tight canyon environment at speeds that would give most pilots pause. What makes Star Wars Canyon so special to those outside the fighter pilot community, however, is that it also offers one of the few places in the country where the photographer can be as high or higher than the fighters in their viewfinders.
The result is some of the most spectacular shots you may ever see of American (and allied) aircraft conducting the sort of high-intensity training that almost made a few specific parts of “Iron Eagle II” tolerable to watch.
The training value of the Jedi Transition is clear. It offers pilots an opportunity to develop experience not only in low-flying circumstances, but it also helps hone the ability to evade non-physical barriers like those represented by surface-to-air missile assets and other forms of air defense. Being able to handle your aircraft in tight spaces, whether real or perceptual, can often mean the difference between mission accomplished and not making it home at all when flying in contested airspace.
Of course, for the rest of us, it’s an opportunity to see our favorite aircraft like we’ve never seen them before. Check out the videos to see just how incredible aircraft traversing Star Wars Canyon can really be.