Rainbow Canyon at the Death Valley National Park in Calif., also known as “Star Wars Canyon” and the “Jedi Transition,” has had a death-defying reputation for the U.S. military pilots that dared to fly nimble fighter jets through it. Aircrews of Air Force C-17 Globemaster heavy transport aircraft also decided to test their limits in the infamous canyon in 2019.
One YouTube account shared the inside-the-cockpit view of a C-17 Globemaster crew flying the Star Wars Canyon, so named for its resemblance to the fictional Star Wars planet of Tatooine.
Throughout the cockpit video, the aircraft’s internal terrain awareness warning system can be heard repeating the warning “TERRAIN” to advise the aircrew that they are indeed flying towards the unforgiving rocky terrain. The warning system intermittently warns “BANK RATE” to advise the crew that they are taking an excessively steep bank angle each time they take a turn through the twisting canyon.
Another, ground-level video, gives some perspective on just how close the C-17 is flying next to the canyon walls.
A third video captured a wider-angle look of a C-17 as it makes its approach up to the canyon before banking sharply into its opening.
Along with drawing military pilots for low-level flight training, Star Wars Canyon is also an attraction for tourists and photographers who can hike along the canyon and capture photos looking down on the aircraft flying below them.
According to The Drive, “Most people probably don’t realize that C-17s do a lot of low-level training.”
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the C-17 is 174 feet (about 53 meters) long, 169 feet, 10 inches (51.75 meters) wide and 55 feet 1 inch (16.79 meters) tall. The transport aircraft can also reach a maximum takeoff weight of 585,000 pounds (265,352 kilograms).
The flying feat, made all the more impressive by the C-17’s size, could be one of the last true death-defying runs through Star Wars Canyon.
On July 31, within weeks after the three different videos were shared on YouTube, a U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet pilot died in a crash near Star Wars Canyon. The pilot, 33-year-old Lt. Charles Walker, was a Top Gun graduate; and the most experienced pilot in his squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, according to an investigative report obtained by Navy Times in May of 2020.
According to the report, seven French civilians were standing about 40 feet about where Walker’s Super Hornet impacted and they suffered varying degress of burns that required hospitalization.
A 1,500 foot flight altitude restriction has been imposed around the canyon, according to The Drive. The outlet reported there has been some discussion as to lowering that flight restriction, no decision has come to pass.