June 25, 2019
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Star Wars Canyon: where enthusiasts go to watch fighter pilots practice

By Ivan Mejia

Los Angeles, May 21 (efe-epa).- Just as if they were coming to watch the famous "Star Wars" spaceship fighters - the X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon - aviation enthusiasts flock to so-called Star Wars Canyon in California to watch US fighter pilots train in warplanes "under the radar" and just a few meters over their heads.

The chasm is located in the mountains in Death Valley National Park, in the Mojave Desert, a well-known area where pilots have trained for air combat since World War II.

There, dozens of admirers of the skill of US military pilots can enjoy the thrill of watching something that's quite difficult to witness elsewhere in the country: dozens of combat aircraft roaring just overhead each day.

A 65-year-old retired military man calling himself "Rodney" told EFE that aside from "enthusiasts" of the low-flying aircraft, he and many others who take photos and videos of the planes going through their training maneuvers are also there to "support" the men and women who fly them.

Rodney said that four years ago, just as winter was ending, he traveled from Arizona to view the training in Rainbow Canyon (the site's real name) from the so-called "Father Crowley View Point" that overlooks it.

"Some of the scenes in the first 'Star Wars' films were filmed at the end of the canyon, in Panamint Valley," Rodney said, regarding the reason why people refer to the canyon by the name of the films conceived by George Lucas.

"Some people say that when the planes nosedive into the canyon it really sounds like some scenes in the Star Wars movies," he said.

That is what attracts tourists, retired military members and professional photographers from Tuesday through Friday, which are the days when most of the military training takes place, to see the fighters and get the feeling that they're in one of the space opera films, the latest of which - "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" - will hit theaters on Dec. 20.

"It's really interesting that some Star Wars fans come to hear the different sounds and see the planes fly inside the canyon because it reminds them of the epic scenes in the film," Rodney said.

Some of the people on hand also monitor the radio band on which pilots communicate with each other and with air traffic control in the zone, which is reserved exclusively for military planes.

The canyon is 8 kilometers (5 miles) long and 1,500 meters (about 4,900 feet) wide, and it takes only seconds for super-powered fighter jets to traverse that distance. Thus, people must be ready with their video and other cameras to get their shots.

Thomas Blahak, 33, a tourist from Slovakia who came to Panamint Valley with three friends, admitted that "the hair on the back of my neck stood on end when the planes flew so close to the rocks."

"It was a positive sensation and we've been lucky, because we saw a B1 bomber flying," he added.

Also to be seen in the canyon on training maneuvers are F-15, F-16, F-18 and F-35 fighters stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, in the Mojave Desert, and at Nellis AFB in Nevada, as well as at the Navy's "China Lake" and Lemoore bases, among others.

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