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Curator's Choice Video Collection

Cradle of Aviation Museum Historian and Curator, Josh Stoff, curates interesting short YouTube videos and provides commentary.

Virtual Museum Home > Curator's Choice > A-10s at Star Wars Canyon

A-10s at Star Wars Canyon

YouTube Channel: Dafydd Phillips, posted Nov 23, 2018

Republic’s A-10 Thunderbolt II is a twin-engine jet attack aircraft designed specifically for ‘Close Air Support’, that is attacking troops and vehicles on the ground in order to protect American soldiers. It was the only American aircraft in history specifically designed for this role. The A-10 was designed around the 30mm GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon – the most powerful aircraft cannon ever flown. Originally designed for the anti-tank role, the cannon fires at a rate of 3900 rounds per minute. In order to use this weapon with great accuracy, pilots are forced to fly the aircraft at relatively low altitudes, which is why the aircraft was so heavily armored – so that it could sustain combat damage and keep flying. A total of 716 A-10s were produced in Farmingdale between 1972 and 1984. Many are still in service today as the Air Force’s only Close Air Support aircraft, protecting American soldiers on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In order to be proficient and comfortable when operating at low altitudes, A-10 pilots regularly train while flying only several hundred feet above terrain. One of the primary places they practice this is at ‘Star Wars Canyon’ (Rainbow Canyon), which is inside Death Valley National Park in California on the parks western border. It was nicknamed ‘Star Wars’ canyon by pilots, as flying through it is reminiscent of the attack on the Death Star in the first Star Wars movie. This canyon is one of only two places in the world (the Mach Loop in the UK is the other) where photographers and airplane geeks can see combat aircraft actually flying below them. Planes travel through the canyon at 200 to 300 miles per hour and as low as 200 feet above the canyon floor. Observers are so close to the aircraft that they can see pilots’ facial expressions and hand gestures.

So let's admire both the skill of these A-10 pilots as they tackle challenging ‘Star Wars Canyon’, and admire the amazing footage taken by the plane spotters on the rim!

And be sure to check out our A-10 on display in our Hangar 2 Jet Gallery here.