Machynlleth Loop, more popularly, and relevantly for that matter, known as "Mach Loop," is a series of grass covered valleys in central Wales that is known the world over by photographers and aviation enthusiast alike for some of the best military aviation action viewable from terra-firma.
The whole area sits under Low Flying Area 7, and because of the terrain, fighters, trainers, helicopters, and even transports use the canyons to hone their low-level flying abilities.
Although it is clearly one of the most thrilling things one can do in military aviation, flying low over the ground still has its tactical advantages when it comes to avoiding radar and other sensor systems. Paired with modern countermeasures like towed decoys and standoff jamming, non-stealthy and stealthy aircraft alike can use this tactic to infiltrate to their targets and make it back alive.
Some aircraft, such as special operations C-130s and helicopters, along with the F-15E Strike Eagle, Block 40 F-16C/Ds and G44 Tornadoes, have elaborate radar systems that allow them to penetrate enemy airspace just feet off the ground, even when visibility is down to zero or in the pitch black of night.
Even air superiority aircraft like the F-15C/D need low-level training as they could find themselves in that environment while hunting down an enemy helicopter or fighter, or running for their lives from a fight.
Beyond its tactical functions, flying low and fast is, well, really fun and challenging for combat aviators. The sensation of speed is not felt at altitude, but when you are sunk down between two canyons at 450kts that is another story.
The cool thing about Mach Loop, and why so many photographers climb those steep, muddy hills and often camp out to capture the action, is the variety of aircraft that flies by. The regulars are USAF F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath and RAF Typhoons, along with C-130s, Hawk Trainers, and various helicopters, but visitors do pop up, like A-10s or Saudi Tornadoes, or even Qinetiq test aircraft.
There is a good chance you have already seen some absolutely stunning photos from Mach Loop before, and it helps that pilots know exactly where to pose for the cameras. Yet to really appreciate the action and the landscape, you have to check it out in video:
And finally, this is what it looks like flying through Mach Loop from inside a Typhoon:
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com