Low Jinks in the Mach Loop
How do you complete a marathon in four minutes? In a jet fighter, of course, at 400-plus knots
How do you complete a marathon in four minutes? In a jet fighter, of course, at 400-plus knots. That's how this Tornado pilot and others fly the Mach Loop in Wales. The loop is a 26-mile ring of valleys in a region designated by the British military as Low Flying Area 7, one of several such regions in the U.K. where British and U.S. fighter pilots get to have some serious fun.
"Living in the heart of Wales, we get a lot of low flying military aircraft on a daily basis," says photographer Andrew Chittock, who took these photos. "These fly as low as 250 feet at over 450 knots, but in certain areas can go as low as 100 feet." Pilots often have to look up to see photographers waiting for them on the mountain slopes.
On June 11, 2010, Chittock was waiting when the Tornado shot past. "Often you'll hear the jet before you see it, with little or no advance warning," he says. "You've got to focus, frame and fire, breathe again. Most of the time they just wave to us, as they know the spots where we'll be photographing." For more detail, here's a larger version.
This time, the navigator had a little surprise in store. A millisecond after clicking the photo above, Chittock got a closer shot. " I didn't realize what was on the photo until I got back home and uploaded the photos onto my PC," he says.